"Playing 13"

The Old Oaken Bucket will stay in Bloomington for the first time since 2001 thanks to an inspired 60 minute effort from the Hoosiers. IU rallied late and connected on a 49-yard game-winning field goal with just 30 seconds remaining to clinch a 27-24 win and their first bowl berth since 1993.

Former Indiana Head Coach Terry's Hoeppner's widow, Jane, did something she hasn't done all season in the week leading up to the Old Oaken Bucket Game. With so much laying on the line Saturday, she felt compelled to step to center stage.

"I requested an audience with the team," said Mrs. Hoeppner.

"I just told them that they weren't going to beat them on emotion. They were going to beat them by being better prepared, better conditioned, and wanting it more. I told that everything they did this week to do it with their whole heart, not to do anything half-hearted."

Whether that talk was the difference in Saturday's game is debatable. What isn't debatable is that the Hoosiers played 60 minutes of their best football of the season Saturday against Purdue and with a 27-24 win almost certainly accomplished something they haven't done in 13 years—earn a bowl bid. The Hoosiers (7-5) are going to live out the mission statement of the departed Hoeppner and "Play 13".

"It's just a wonderful feeling to know that we reached our goal and know that Coach Hep is smiling down on us," said junior receiver James Hardy.

Just like the last few seasons, the Hoosiers didn't get through without heavy doses of adversity. After racing out to a 24-3 lead early in the second half, the Hoosiers suddenly felt the game swing entirely away from them. A packed Memorial Stadium of over 50,000 fans suddenly fell into shocked silence when Purdue quarterback Curtis Painter found Jake Standeford in the endzone to tie the game at 24-24 with just 3:39 remaining in the game. The score came just moments after IU senior tailback Marcus Thigpen had fumbled the ball away deep in Hoosier territory and cemented the momentum in the Boilermaker's favor. But Indiana Coach Bill Lynch has preached about the resiliency of his team all season and they responded for him Saturday.

"We had really lost the momentum; they had all the momentum going," said Lynch. "Guys were standing on the sidelines and you're looking at them and preaching at them, but (quarterback Kellen Lewis) had a cool look on his face and said ‘let's go."

The Hoosiers took possession of the ball at their 24 yard line with just 3:33 remaining in the game. First Lewis found Fisher for nine yards. Three plays later he hooked up with Hardy for seven yards. Next Thigpen burst up the middle for seven yards to midfield. Two plays later IU was facing 3rd and 5 at the Purdue 45 yard line with their goal of "Playing 13" and the Bucket on the line. It was then that Lewis made perhaps his biggest play of the day by finding Hardy over the middle for 12 yards to the Purdue 33-yard line.

"Big time players make big time plays in big games," said Lewis, who would finish the day with 246 yards of total offense and three touchdowns, with ten of his passes going to his favorite target for 87 yards and a score. "You get to a certain point where you the ball in the hands of the guys you trust a lot. James is one of those guys."

But after the next three plays failed to gain a first down IU was facing 4th and 8 from the Purdue 31-yard line.

Enter kicker Austin Starr, who has been the model of consistency this season, but had already missed a 42-yard field goal in the fourth quarter that would have put the game out of reach. It was his first miss in 16 straight attempts and his lone career miss from beyond 40 yards. But if that kick had shaken the Groza Award candidate didn't show it. He calmly took the field with just 30 seconds remaining and sent a 49-yard game-winning field goal straight through the middle of the uprights.

"I heard the noise and I thought "Oh, I'm so glad I'm in front of the home crowd, because everyone is about to witness a great play and history," said Starr. "They witnessed history. People will be talking about this for a long time. Not just that kick, not just this game, but the entire season. This is something people will talk about forever."

It was a Bucket Game for the ages as the Hoosiers saw the Boilers rattle off 21 straight points in the final 17 minutes, but came up with an answer. Luckily, they had built a big cushion for themselves thanks to rushing for 200 yards through three quarters, while holding the Boilers to just 32 ground yards during that time. Thigpen would finish with a career-high 140 rushing yards on just 19 carries in his last game in Memorial Stadium thanks to several big runs, including a 45-yard scamper. That ground presence allowed Lewis to connect on 23-39 passes for 216 yards.

"I am really proud of (Thigpen) because he had to go," said Lynch. "Here is a guy that didn't play last week because he had a bad ankle and he has been battling it all year. And then Josiah (Sears) and Bryan (Payton) went down in the first quarter, so it was Marcus and (redshirt) Trea Burgess left. But he really stepped up and had some huge plays for us."

Thigpen credited his effort to sheer determination.

"Josiah had a concussion and he was crying and that really got to me so I said I was going to do it for him," said Thigpen. "It was my whole thinking process to get that Bucket back for him."

As good as the IU offense was in putting up the necessary 27 points to win the game, it was the IU defense that dominated for nearly three quarters. After failing to record a single sack last week in the loss to Northwestern, the Hoosiers were in the backfield all day long against Purdue. Sophomore Greg Middleton, a recruit that passed over a Purdue offer to play tackle to get a chance to pass rush at Indiana, got some big time payback by recording 3.5 sacks on Saturday. That gives Middleton 17 sacks on the season breaking the record of 14 single season sacks Van Waiters set back in 1987. The 6-foot-3 Hoosier defensive end now leads the nation in that category.

"I knew they were going to pass a lot so I knew I had to get off the ball," said Middleton. "All week I had just been working on pass rush moves and coming off the ball quick so I didn't really surprise myself. I knew I was going to get those sacks. I set some goals for myself earlier in the week and I'm glad I met them and even gladder we got the win."

As spectacular as the game itself was, it paled in comparison to the total meaning of this season just passed for the Hoosiers. For the first time since 1993 the Hoosiers are getting ready for a bowl trip. More importantly their beloved former coach that fell victim to brain cancer has seen his dream fulfilled.

"It's just a wonderful feeling to reach our goal and be able to play 13 now," said Hardy. "This is what Coach Hep started and now we have finished. We finally did it."

When asked to say what she thought her husband would say at this moment Jane Hoeppner eyes lit up and she simply said, "We did it. We did it."

Game Notes

In addition to Middleton's record-setting day, the Hoosiers also saw record-setting days from Austin Starr and James Hardy. Starr finished the season 19-21 on the season and broke the single-season record for made field goals (17) set by Pete Stoyanovich in 1988. Starr now sits at 4th on the single season points list. Hardy, meanwhile, moved his own school-record for receiving touchdowns to 16 and moved into a tie for third for most touchdowns in Big Ten single season history. Hardy also broke the 1,000 yard receiving barrier in the game and broke Ernie Jones single season reception record set in 1967 by catching 74 so far this season.

Peegs.com Top Stories