By Craig Smith
BLOOMINGTON — Kellen Lewis didn’t even see the final play as he hugged Jane Hoeppner and then ran out on the field, sprinting nowhere in particular. The student section stormed the field, creating a large mass of people radiating around the state of Indiana painted on the 50-yard line.
Memorial Stadium had a sellout crowd for the Purdue game for the first time since 1989, creating post-game traffic jams three hours after the game was over. Austin Starr — the game’s hero — found himself holding the Old Oaken Bucket aloft as students chanted his name.
Marcus Thigpen basked in the mayhem, never believing he would see a scene like this at Indiana. James Hardy rode on the shoulders of several fans, shaking hands with students like a beloved politician running for president. Senior fullback Josiah Sears held the Bucket for the first time in his career as Hoosier fans stretched for a small brush with the celebrated trophy.
Indiana coach Bill Lynch said it was great to see a post-game locker room where players were crying — out of joy.
In the words of Jane Hoeppner, Saturday was Terry Hoeppner’s legacy. Indiana likely fulfilled its former coach’s exhortation to “Play 13” as the Hoosiers will probably play in a post-season bowl for the first time since the 1993 Independence Bowl after their 27-24 victory over Purdue on Saturday. Indiana (7-5, 3-5) defeated Purdue (7-5, 3-5) for the first time since 2001.
“[Terry] would be so proud of those kids,” Lynch said after the game. “Jane put the “I” in the bucket in the locker room after the game. Terry loved Bucket week. He loved the rivalry and loved every part of it.”
After drilling the game-winning kick, Starr said the first thing he thought of was Hoeppner and pointed toward the heavens. After the game, he found Hoeppner’s daughters and told them that this win was for their father. Even as the fans chanted his name, Starr quickly began chanting “Terr-y Hoep-pner” to recognize the man he considered to be the game’s hero.
Hoeppner’s legacy won’t be complete until the Hoosiers find out if they make a bowl. Given the state of flux surrounding the top college football teams, it likely wouldn’t be announced until the BCS games are announced on Dec. 2. Representatives of the Motor City Bowl and Insight Bowl were present Saturday.
Lynch said he hasn’t given any thought to where Indiana might end up, but believes that Saturday’s win set the tone for the program.
“It’s the next step. I think that’s the biggest thing. We have seven wins and a winning record,” he said. “We felt all along that this was a better football team, but you have to prove it on the field. I think getting the Bucket back is huge. The seniors have not seen it in the complex, so this is big in the program.”
I I I
n Lewis — Lewis played a strong game, going 23-for-39 for 216 yards and a touchdown while running for two more.
“He’s more effective, I think, in ad-libbing off a broken play than he is running the option,” Purdue coach Joe Tiller said. “When he takes off back there and scrambles and runs around and you’re playing pass coverage that makes it very difficult.
But Lewis’ most important contribution ended with a field goal.
The sophomore quarterback went 6-for-7 for 44 yards in Indiana’s final drive, culminating with Starr’s career-long 49-yard field goal with 30 seconds remaining.
It wasn’t the first time this season Lewis had the ball late in the game with a chance to win. He fumbled the ball with 40 seconds left in a 36-31 loss to Penn State and fumbled with 12 seconds remaining last week in a 31-28 loss at Northwestern.
“We played with confidence (on the final drive),” Lewis said. “Our attitude was lets go out there and win the game.”
n Thigpen — Sears and fellow running back Bryan Payton were injured in the first quarter, leaving only Thigpen and Trea Burgess for the Hoosiers. Thigpen was all that they needed.
The lightning quick junior ran the ball 19 times for a career-high 140 yards, routinely gashing the Purdue defense as the offensive line opened gaping holes.
“It didn’t seem real to see holes that big,” Thigpen said.
n Lynch — Lynch doesn’t know if he will be back as head coach next year. He has a one-year contract and would only say that he wanted the job and expected to have conversations about his future in the coming weeks.
He has a vote of confidence from Jane Hoeppner, who said she “absolutely” hopes that Indiana hires Lynch on a more permanent basis.
“Apparently Terry’s role was to lay the foundation,” Jane Hoeppner said. “Continuity is so important for these kids and Bill has done such a great job. [The players] have played their hearts out.”
But even if Lynch isn’t brought back, he capped his tenure off with an unforgettable game and will enjoy it.
“We are going to go to the banquet and celebrate and its going to be great to see the Bucket at the head table,” he said.
n Powers — Senior quarterback Blake Powers, who lost the starting job to Lewis last year, got one last play in for his career.
On fourth-and-one from the Purdue 43 with under two minutes remaining in the first half, Powers lined up at quarterback and snuck ahead for two yards and the first down. He ran off the field to high fives as
Lewis returned and drove the Hoosiers down the field for an eight-yard touchdown pass to Hardy.
“Blake’s a good quarterback … and a big strong guy,” Lynch said. “He did a great job and made as big of a yard as we needed for the game.”