Purdue left alone in the Big Ten basement

It was Illinois, not Purdue, which earned its first Big Ten victory.

WEST LAFAYETTE -- Twenty minutes after the final whistle and Ricardo Allen struggled to keep his head up.

The story of Saturday was which team would get its first Big Ten win. It was the "Basement Bowl" and Illinois escaped with a 20-16 victory, its first conference win since October of 2011. But buried in this pathetic narrative is the unfortunate truth for Allen and Purdue's seniors—this was their last time playing at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Their four years ended like this.

Purdue had every opportunity to win the game. It won the turnover battle, played stout defense, received so many breaks, and even had one final drive to win the game. This all just made the loss hurt more.

"It's very tough," Allen said, making eye contact with the media for the first time. "Because I don't just do it for me, for the seniors, I do it for the redshirt freshmen, the underclassmen, the [21 former captains visiting on Saturday] who were here."

These Purdue seniors have stuck together through a rebuilding year filled with adversity. They could have quit when first-year coach Darrell Hazell began the youth movement, pushing aside the senior starters for promising freshmen. It would have been easy to give up when the losses piled up, one after another.

The senior class stuck together, led by character players like Allen, Rob Henry, Bruce Gaston, Kurt Freytag and so many more. These veteran leaders understand it's a rebuilding process and stuck with the program with the hopes of bettering it for the future.

One of these teams had to get its first Big Ten win. The Fighting Illini and embattled coach Tim Beckman deserve the postgame celebration. In the home locker room, though, there was a feeling of anguish. The Boilermaker seniors deserved one last win at home, in front of friends and family.

Purdue had so many chances to pull out the win. There was the missed field goal from Paul Griggs which would have turned the game's momentum before halftime. The Danny Anthrop drop in the third quarter, a perfect crossing route which would have ended in the end zone. Worst of all, the punt return for a touchdown from Frankie Williams, called back for an illegal block.

These were all gifts from one beleaguered football team to another.

"That's the only way you're going to win football games," said Hazell, who falls to 1-10 in his first year with Purdue. "We didn't make enough plays."

The game started with hope that this would be the one for Purdue. On his first carry, Akeem Hunt sprinted for a 62-yard touchdown run, nearly doubling his season average for rushing yards. Later in the first, Danny Etling hit receiver Cameron Posey in the end zone with pinpoint accuracy, giving the Boilermakers a 14-7 lead.

The offense fizzled from the end of the first quarter moving forward. That's where those minimal errors became critical mistakes. It cost the Boilermakers a chance to break through.

"That's where we need to go from here, is fixing the little things," said Etling, who hit on 20 of 29 passes for 163 yards, including a touchdown and interception.

"We've got to change the culture and say this isn't going to happen anymore. We've got to know what we're doing and go from there."

Purdue's final chance came on fourth-and-9 from the Illinois 30-yard line. Etling was bull rushed and forced to throw—something which we've seen over and over again. His errant pass landed in the hands of Fighting Illini cornerback V'Angelo Bentley.

The celebration began on the Illinois sidelines. On the other side of the field, the despair hit—especially for the Purdue seniors. This was their final chapter at Ross-Ade Stadium.

Before the game, Purdue great Drew Brees spoke to the players and reminded them what an honor it is to be part of this program. His message lifted their spirits. This was the one the senior class wanted, for the future of the program and those who built the past.

"It's a privilege to be a Boilermaker," Allen later said. "My four years have been great."

Maybe the Boilermakers will beat rival Indiana next Saturday, keeping the Old Oaken Bucket in West Lafayette. It would be a worthy reward for a senior class that stuck together. But with the way this season has gone, it's hard to envision any win.

This was a win the Boilermakers should've had. Instead, they left Ross-Ade Stadium for the final time hanging their heads.

Chris Emma has covered recruiting, college athletics and professional baseball for FOX Sports Next since 2009. Emma covered the Nebraska Cornhuskers and Northwestern Wildcats, and currently covers the Purdue Boilermakers. A Chicago native, he resides in West Lafayette.
Facebook | Twitter| E-Mail |

Boiler Sports Report Top Stories