Indiana Football rally again, improve to 3-0
By: Pete DiPrimio | IUHoosiers.com
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Drama?
Of course. It seems part of Indiana’s football DNA.
Rising to the challenge, even when it includes losing starting center Zach Carpenter during warmups?
Absolutely. That, too, is a Hoosier trademark in this turnaround season.
Forget brink-of-defeat pressure. IU (3-0) found a way Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium, making big plays under pressure on offense, defense, and special teams to rally past Western Kentucky in overtime, 33-30.
“When it comes time to make a play,” linebacker Cam Jones said, “somebody steps up and makes it.”
Charles Campbell’s 51-yard field goal won it, but only after quarterback Connor Bazelak led another crucial crunch-time touchdown drive, this one capped by a 2-point version, to force overtime.
“I love the grit of this team,” head coach Tom Allen said. “I love the perseverance and the way they fight and find a way.”
When it mattered most, the defense held Western Kentucky (2-1) to a field goal when a touchdown might have clinched the Hilltoppers’ first win over a Big Ten team. Special teams blocked an overtime field goal and made the winning one. The offense scored eight points when anything less would have meant defeat.
“It’s L-E-O,” Bazelak said of the team’s Love Each Other mentality. “Everyone fights through adversity.”
Added Allen: “We talk that positivity, optimism, and belief gives you a competitive advantage.
“It was ugly at times, but we found a way. We’ve got a lot to learn and build off of.”
Down 30-22 with 3:46 left in regulation, Bazelak led IU 75 yards in an efficient mix of run (four runs for 15 yards) and pass (three completions for 27 yards) helped by a couple of Western Kentucky penalties.
Bazelak hit Cam Camper with a 4-yard touchdown pass and Donaven McCulley with the two-point conversion for a tie with 47 seconds left.
“We got things rolling with the run game, calling two runs in a row,” Bazelak said. “That got us moving, got the defense moving. It allows us to play fast and get the calls we want.”
The Hoosiers got an overtime chance when Western Kentucky kicker Brayden Narveson, who had already made three field goals, missed from 44 yards as time expired.
In overtime, Jaylin Williams blocked Narveson’s 39-yard attempt, and Bryant Fitzgerald recovered and nearly ran it back for a game winner.
Instead, it set the stage for Campbell’s winning kick. It was his fourth field goal of the game.
“It was long,” Campbell said, “but I like long ones. It lets you swing free and smoke the ball. I struck it well.
“My job is to hit field goals, hit long field goals.”
“I don’t remember much about that kick,” Allen said. “I remember he crushed it. It would have been good from 60 (yards).
“He’s a great kicker because great kickers make kicks like that when the team needs him.”
Despite trailing at halftime in every game, IU stayed unbeaten.
“It’s knowing that it’s a four-quarter game,” Bazelak said about Hoosier resiliency. “The whole team believes no mater how bad or good you play, as long as you come out on top, it’s all good.”
This rally had an extra challenge when starting Carpenter was hurt.
“That was crazy,” Allen said. “I don’t know that we’ve ever had that happen before. It’s the last second, so you’ve just gotta go. You don’t blink.”
Seldom-used sophomore Caleb Murphy, who wasn’t listed in the pre-game top-two depth chart and who had only played in the Idaho win, replaced Carpenter for all 90 offensive plays.
“Right before kickoff, he said, no matter what I will protect you with my life,” Bazelak said.
“I love that guy. He’s a fighter. He did an unbelievable job.”
Bazelak, who directed the game-winning TD drive against Illinois in the season opener, was 33-for-55 for 364 yards and two touchdowns while completing passes to 12 different receivers.
Camper was the leader with eight catches for 93 yards and a touchdown.
IU ran for 120 yards (Josh Henderson led with 65), although Allen was hoping for 150.
Outside linebacker Myles Jackson had an interception and recovered a fumble while adding two tackles.
Western Kentucky’s high-powered offensive reputation (its 43.5-point scoring average ranked 24th nationally, and it totaled 545 yards against IU) didn’t mean it neglected defense. It arrived with seven interceptions and three fumble recoveries on its resume.
The Hilltoppers had three sacks and one fumble recovery on Saturday.
“There were a lot of great things out there, a lot of great plays,” Western Kentucky head coach Tyson Helton said. “It was two good teams playing back and forth.”
The Hilltoppers opened with a pass-happy, spread approach. IU shut it down with a nine-yard Dasan McCullough sack to force a punt.
Campbell’s 34-yard field goal gave IU an early 3-0 lead.
After the Hoosiers missed on a fourth-down gamble at midfield, Western Kentucky took advantage with a 26-yard touchdown pass and a 7-3 late-first-quarter advantage.
IU pushed ahead 10-7 early in the second quarter on Bazelak’s 5-yard scoring pass to Andison Coby. It was Coby’s first Hoosier catch and first Hoosier score.
Western Kentucky needed less than a minute to match that touchdown, this one on a 44-yard scoring pass.
A promising Indiana drive ended inside the Western Kentucky 20-yard line on a fumbled backwards pass.
The Hilltoppers added a field goal for a 17-10 halftime lead.
IU opened the third quarter with Campbell’s 32-yard field goal. Western Kentucky countered with quarterback Austin Reed’s TD run and a 24-13 advantage.
The Hilltoppers were driving for another score when Jackson’s end zone interception sparked Hoosier momentum. Indiana drove 90 yards, capped by Henderson’s 19-yard scoring run. It missed on a 2-point conversion try and trailed 24-19 nine seconds into the fourth quarter.
Western Kentucky added a field goal. Then Jones forced a fumble and Jackson recovered at the Hilltopper 16-yard line. That set up Campbell’s 33-yard field goal to make it 27-23 with seven minutes left.
The Hilltoppers got another field goal for a 30-22 lead. IU had less than four minutes to score eight points.
“It’s a testament to all the hard work we put in this year, the leaders we have,” Jones said.
“We knew we couldn’t give up. We had to finish. It was emphasizing finish, finish, finish that allowed us to win.”
Next up — trips to Cincinnati (2-1) next Saturday and to Nebraska (1-3) on Oct. 1.
“It’s good to get this one knowing we have two road games coming up,” Bazelak said. “Cincinnati has an unbelievable atmosphere.
“We’ve got to make it 4-0.”
Courtesy of IU Hoosiers.com used with permission