BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – Victory was there for the Indiana Hoosiers taking.
They needed a crunch-time defensive stop against Michigan State on a sun-splashed afternoon at Memorial Stadium.
Then, they needed a crunch-time score.
Both were one decisive play away.
Then they weren’t.
Chris Freeman’s missed 48-yard field goal attempt that would have sent the game into overtime gave the Spartans (4-7) a 24-21 victory and the Old Brass Spittoon.
A final home game for the Hoosier seniors didn’t bring a final victory.
“There are a lot of high emotions,” safety Louis Moore said. “We have a lot of seniors on the team. This was their last home game. We felt the game was ours. Going out like that, the way it went, was sad.”
IU (3-8) has one final trophy to potentially claim — the Old Oaken Bucket next Saturday at Purdue.
“We’re pretty devastated,” quarterback Brendan Sorsby said. “We have to bounce back and win the Bucket.”
Added Moore: “We’ve got one more game. We have to finish strong.”
The loss followed the previous week’s overtime defeat at Illinois. The Hoosiers’ last three losses have been decided in the final few minutes or overtime.
“It’s frustrating knowing we’re taking it down to the end of these games and are not completing it and putting it all together at the end,” linebacker Aaron Casey said. “It’s something we have to keep working on. Finish strong.”
The Hoosiers were oh, so close.
Sorsby’s 8-yard touchdown pass to tight end Trey Walker pushed IU ahead 21-17 with four minutes left.
A defense that had held the Spartans to three points and 57 total yards in four previous second-half possessions, including an interception by cornerback Jamari Sharpe, gave up 75 yards and, ultimately, the winning touchdown.
“When the game is on the line, and we’re up,” Moore said, “we have to get off the field. Give the ball back to the offense and let them run out the clock.”
Added Casey: “We didn’t execute well enough at the end of the game. We weren’t at our best when it counted the most. We have to execute in those critical situations.”
Then, when a Michigan State touchdown pass made it a 24-21 score with 89 seconds remaining, Sorsby directed a drive that got the Hoosiers (3-8) to the brink of at least overtime, if not victory.
But a final score never came.
“It’s very frustrating,” head coach Tom Allen said. “We had a chance to win it. We didn’t do it. We had a lot of young guys playing hard.
“We didn’t finish.”
“We’re all physical runners,” Sorsby said. “We run through tackles. When the O-line is creating big holes, it makes it easy on you.
“Trent and Josh are running through tackles and getting yards after contact. It was a great job up front, a great job by them.”
Sorsby also was 19-for-34 for 192 yards and two touchdowns.
IU had 402 total yards with four drives of at least 66 yards.
“Our offensive line played great the whole game,” Sorsby said. “We executed when we needed to. We have to put some other drives together, too. We can’t have just have (four) good drives. We have to string together more.”
The Hoosiers got interceptions from Sharpe and safety Josh Sanguinetti. They held the Spartans to just 2.1 yards per carry. Moore led with 13 tackles.
“I felt our defense was better than their offense,” Moore said. “We had a lot of drives where we stopped them.
“It’s very frustrating.”
Michigan State opened the game with an 80-yard scoring drive for a 7-0 lead.
Second-quarter Sorsby runs of 25 and 11 yards mixed with passes of 13 and nine yards to receiver E.J. Williams Jr. got IU in the red zone. Three-straight Howland power runs totaling 18 yards got the Hoosiers into the end zone for a 7-7 tie.
The Spartans got a 29-yard touchdown pass for a 14-7 lead. Freeman’s 53-yard field goal attempt just before halftime was blocked.
A 43-yard field goal gave Michigan State a 17-14 lead with 9:26 left in the game.
The Hoosiers responded with physical running behind physical offensive line play. An 11-play, 75-yard drive was capped by Sorsby’s touchdown pass to tight end Trey Walker for a 21-17 lead.
The Hoosiers were four minutes from victory.
A 36-yard Spartan TD pass gave them a 24-21 lead with 1:29 left. IU got within field goal range, but Freeman missed from 48 yards.
Now, it all comes down to Purdue. The Hoosiers will be ready, Allen said.
“We’re playing Purdue, period! I got this team’s back. Period. They know it. They will fight to the finish. I promise you that.
“We’re playing for the Old Oaken Bucket. Other than a bowl game, it’s the biggest opportunity this team has to play for.
“It’s a huge game, a massive game. A lot of guys are playing their final games.
“We have a strong locker room.”
Used with permission IUHoosiers.com