TERRE HAUTE —
The biggest difference I’ve noticed, as I transition from the high school football beat to quasi-official status as the Indiana State football beat writer for a few weeks, is the length of the games.
“Duh,” most of you should be saying right now, but the difference is in the number of key plays that are impossible to document in a college football game story.
As the Sycamores kept the “P” word in play on Saturday at Missouri State, for example, there were a number of notes I jotted down that in no way could fit in our Sunday paper.
Calvin Burnett, for example, did not appear. This despite the fact that he stopped the Bears’ first drive single-handedly by intercepting Missouri State’s first pass attempt — after the home team had quickly pounded out two first downs on the ground — and later helped force a field goal by stripping MSU’s Jermaine Saffold — an extremely good receiver who I am glad is a senior — of what looked very much like a second-quarter touchdown pass.
Even Shakir Bell turned out to be an unsung hero. Despite setting a school record and nearly setting another on Saturday, his most important two runs were fourth-down carries in the first half — he gained 4 yards on fourth-and-1, and then he gained 3 yards, by the skin of his teeth, on fourth-and-3 — that helped ISU’s two scoring drives continue. Like coach Trent Miles said, he runs with determination.
ISU was running on fourth down several times because its kicking game, you probably have heard, is a little dicey. Yet Lucas Hileman had a couple of excellent punts into stiff winds — including a 44-yarder when the Sycamores were backed up in their own territory in the first half — that prevented bad situations from becoming worse.
(He also had a couple that weren’t as good, to be honest. But I remember a game long ago at Eastern Kentucky in which ISU punter Jim Shaughnessy — I was certain he was headed to the National Football League as a punter — had to field one of his own kicks that blew back over his head. And, in continuing the EKU theme for a moment, I’ll always consider Verbie Walder to be the best quarterback in ISU history because with the game on the line in that game, he threw one into that same wind about 60 yards, right on the fingertips of a receiver — who, unfortunately, dropped it.)
Virtually everyone on the defensive unit was an unsung hero at some point, because there were a lot of big plays. Demory Lawshe isn’t a defensive player, but he had a huge play with a tackle in punt coverage. So did Garrick Dikos, even though he also had to snap the ball.
Then there was Brock Lough, and in the interest of fairness I need to point out that I’ve known Brock a long time and known most of his relatives even longer. But favoritism has nothing to do with his doing something I’m not sure I’ve seen another college football player do — play three different positions on three consecutive offensive plays.
Early in the second quarter, in a third-and-2 situation, Lough was the tight end in place of injured Alex Jones. He was helping block as Bell went 17 yards to the Missouri State 3-yard line. (Jones, who did not appear on the injury report, had tweaked a previous injury, Miles said, and is expected back this week.)
Next play, Lough was at tailback and tried to blast up the middle, stopped for a 1-yard gain.
Third play, Lough was back at his usual fullback position and threw a block that helped spring Bell for a touchdown.
“I’ve got to work on my tight end stuff,” Lough said with a laugh after the game, “but [the ISU coaches] have moved me around a lot; I think I’ve been everywhere but quarterback.
“Actually, I tried [quarterback, or at least wildcat formation] too, but it didn’t work so well,” Lough added. “That’s crossed off the list now.”
“Our heart and soul,” Miles said of Lough, and also of several others among the senior class that took its lumps for two straight years.
n No doubt about it — My least favorite, reasonably new college football rule is the one that protects defenseless receivers, much like the one the NFL has adopted.
The call that may have cost ISU the game against North Dakota State on Nov. 5 was probably legit — at least pretty much every official in the area threw the flag on the hit. Just one flag, however, from the offical farthest from the play, was thrown on a hit at Missouri State by Jacolby Washington that dislodged the ball from one of the MSU tight ends in a crucial spot and threatened to help a comeback attempt by the Bears (Washington, who made too many plays Saturday to be considered unsung, had a tackle-for-loss two plays later to help snuff said threat, by the way). The receiver had the ball in his hands and was tackled slightly above the waist, nowhere near the head.
“As a defender, your job is to separate the ball [from the receiver],” said Washington, who doesn’t like that penalty much either, after the game. “I thought I led with my shoulder [instead of my helmet] ... the defense rose up again [and stopped the drive] though.”
n What’s next? It’s Senior Day on Saturday at Memorial Stadium when the Sycamores try to keep playoff (that’s the word) hopes alive against Southern Illinois. How big a game is it?
“Probably the biggest since I’ve been here,” said Miles. “Probably the biggest since 1984 [ISU’s most recent playoff venture].”
Andy Amey can be reached after 4 p.m. at (812) 231-4277 or at 1-800-783-8742; by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org; by mail at P.O. Box 149, Terre Haute, IN, 47808; or by fax at (812) 231-4321.
INDIANA ST. 28,
MISSOURI ST. 20
Indiana St. 7 7 7 7 — 28
Missouri St. 0 6 7 7 — 20
InSt—Bell 23 run (Wozniak kick), 3:05.
InSt—Bell 2 run (Wozniak kick), 10:46.
MoSt—FG Witmer 22, 4:09.
MoSt—FG Witmer 44, :00.
MoSt—Douglas 5 pass from Wooden (Witmer kick), 13:04.
InSt—Spencer 36 pass from Fouch (Wozniak kick), 6:02.
InSt—Obaseki 1 run (Wozniak kick), 3:57.
MoSt—Saffold 12 pass from Wooden (Witmer kick), 1:39.
First downs 17 13
Rushes-yards 46-249 40-134
Passing 90 136
Comp-Att-Int 8-18-0 10-22-1
Return Yards 36 14
Punts-Avg. 7-32.6 7-39.7
Fumbles-Lost 2-2 0-0
Penalties-Yards 6-45 2-13
Time of Possession 31:30 28:30
RUSHING—Indiana St., Bell 39-206, Lough 4-46, Obaseki 1-1, Team 1-(minus 1), Fouch 1-(minus 3). Missouri St., Douglas 15-65, Johnston 9-31, Wooden 12-26, Scott 4-12.
PASSING—Indiana St., Fouch 8-18-0-90. Missouri St., Wooden 10-22-1-136.
RECEIVING—Indiana St., Spencer 3-52, Bell 3-16, Lough 1-17, Hilton 1-5. Missouri St., Saffold 4-90, Starnes 2-20, Johnston 2-12, Thayer 1-9, Douglas 1-5.