TERRE HAUTE —
Missouri State football coach Terry Allen was crestfallen.
Who could blame him? In a see-saw game with Indiana State where either team could have won, Allen’s team’s fate was decided when Jordan Chiles missed a chip-shot 27-yard field goal in overtime, handing ISU a 38-35 victory on Saturday that was as thrilling for the Sycamores as it was devastating for the Bears.
The Bears fell to 2-4 in what’s been a heartbreaking season. It was the second time in as many road conference games that Missouri State lost in overtime. The Bears also surrendered a second-half lead at Illinois State on Sept. 25. A missed field goal by Chiles, albeit a much longer 42-yard attempt, cost the Bears in the extra period against the Redbirds.
What made it worse for Missouri State was that it didn’t want its fate decided by a field goal, preferring to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the ISU 4, until a false-start penalty by all-conference tackle David Arkin forced the Bears hand.
A disappointed Allen spoke for only about two minutes in the postgame news conference before he excused himself.
But before he left, he had plenty of kind words for the progress ISU has made.
“I want to congratulate Trent [Miles, ISU coach]. His team showed a great amount of heart and perseverance and they hung in there long enough to get a victory,” Allen said.
Allen and Miles are comrades off the field in Missouri Valley Football Conference coaching circles. Miles had kind words for Allen saying, “he’s been a friend to me” since Miles became ISU’s head coach in 2007.
The pair had a long discussion after the 2009 game in Springfield, Mo. The Bears won 31-7 at Plaster Field in a game where ISU wasn’t competitive and suffered a massive number of injuries. Allen encouraged Miles to keep doing what he was doing and there would eventually be a payoff.
“My hat’s off to him and the job he’s done with that football team and the life he’s put back into them. It’s neat to see for Indiana State University,” said Allen, who also coached at Northern Iowa in the 1990s.
Allen concluded his news conference by paying the Sycamores yet another compliment.
“I’ve been over here a bunch of times in my coaching career and never in my coaching career have I gone for an onside kick against Indiana State in the first half. That’s how much respect I have for Trent and his guys and what they’ve done,” said Allen, who then left the room to fulfill his radio responsibilities.
• Stopping Kirby — For much of the second half, it appeared Missouri State quarterback Cody Kirby would live on to haunt ISU’s dreams.
The senior quarterback was torturing ISU’s defense with an effective deep passing game that exploited ISU’s young corners.
Using that threat, and the equally effective running game fueled by Stephen Johnson and Chris Douglas, he was also deadly with an option draw play, usually off a fake handoff. Among other long gains (Kirby gained 71 yards rushing, losing 32 due to ISU sacks for a net total of 39 rushing yards), he used it to score a 12-yard touchdown to put Missouri State up 35-21.
“It’s a tough offense because they apply option principles to the spread [offense]. It’s really a shotgun triple-option. It’s a difficult thing to stop,” Miles said.
So how did the Sycamores do it? ISU kept a lineman or a linebacker “at home” to keep Kirby from breaking out past the scrimmage line on his fake handoffs.
“Our game plan was to get after him and force him to beat us. We had to stop that option play. They have a high-powered offense and we had to get that option. Once we did that, we put pressure on the quarterback and forced him to make difficult decisions,” ISU defensive end Ben Obaseki said.
Obaseki provided much of the pressure. The sophomore had three sacks, the biggest one coming with 1:23 left in the game when he nailed Kirby on the first play of a Missouri State drive at the MSU 38. Jacolby Washington had a sack on the following play and the Bears got nothing from their last regulation series.
“Our emotion took over. We had to step it up to get the win. We had been cracking hard all week to get the win, so we had to do what we could do,” Obaseki said.
• Déjà vu? — ISU running back Darrius Gates knows the feeling Missouri State had after its loss. He was on the other side of a similar defeat for the Sycamores in 2008.
“When you come out with a victory in the circumstance we were in [down 35-21 in the fourth quarter], it’s so much sweeter,” said Gates, who rushed for 119 yards and two touchdowns. “I think we needed that win to learn how to win close games.”
In 2008, ISU hadn’t learned that lesson yet. The Sycamores lost in overtime to Missouri State 27-24 at Memorial Stadium in one the most heartbreaking games in ISU history.
ISU, then saddled with the nation’s longest losing streak, had taken a 21-14 lead in the final minute, only to have Kirby complete a 19-yard touchdown pass to Chris Geisz with no time left in regulation to force overtime. Kirby scored on a 19-yard touchdown run in OT to send the Sycamores to a devastating season-ending defeat.
“I don’t know about everybody else, but it seemed to me like déjà vu,” said Gates, referring to Missouri State’s chance to win the game in overtime with a touchdown. “I was thinking about two years ago watching on the sideline and [Missouri State] ending the game with a touchdown. With this one ending differently, I was happy we were victorious in this game.”
It wasn’t just Gates who saw the similarities between 2008 and 2010.
“Two years ago we had them down, the game was on the line and [the defense] didn’t stop them,” said ISU linebacker Aaron Archie, who watched the 2008 game from the sideline as he recovered from a knee injury that had scuttled his freshman season. “This year, we had the weapons, and we stopped them.”
• Little improving — Nearly every aspect of ISU’s kicking game has come under fire this season. From short kickoffs to shaky field goal and point-after attempts, Miles has expressed concern about the kicking game.
However, kicker Cory Little might be breaking through a bit.
Little, of course, made what became the game-winning field goal in overtime, but his improvement was displayed primarily on his kickoffs.
Little kicked off six times against the Bears. Only one of those five kickoffs failed to sail past the 10-yard line. On average, Little got his kickoffs to the 5-yard line, significant improvement after he had struggled to get kicks to the 20 early in the season.
“He’s a baby,” said Miles, referring to Little’s youth. “Just think now, at this time last year he was kicking for North Posey. He didn’t face anything like the pressure he faced tonight. He’s going to get better and better. He just needs to get more experience.”
Little missed a 49-yard field goal at the end of regulation, but not by much. It had the distance, but sailed a foot or so to the right.
“He had a chance to make it, he just pushed it wide. We’re excited about his leg and we’re excited about him as a person. We were glad to have him tonight,” Miles said.
• Back in black — All through the week of preparation for Missouri State, Miles insisted that the black jerseys ISU wore in its 59-24 Homecoming victory were for special occasions only. He even told the media during the MVFC teleconference that ISU would be back in blue for the Missouri State game.
Yet when the Sycamores emerged for their warmups on Saturday, the black jerseys were once again on display.
“I attribute that to our O-coordinator [Steve Englehardt]. He loved those black jerseys and we put up a lot of points in those. He might be a little superstitious, but he definitely wanted to put those back on,” ISU quarterback Ronnie Fouch said.