WESTFIELD, Ind. — Senior defender Andrew Gutman fell to his knees on the sideline and prayed.
The last time the No. 2 Hoosiers went to penalty kicks in the Big Ten Tournament, they lost to Wisconsin in the championship. One year later, their tournament run hung in the balance of penalties yet again.
So, Gutman prayed. It was the only thing he could do as he watched his teammates take their respective penalty kicks.
IU’s fifth penalty kick-taker, senior Cory Thomas, held the responsibility of sending Indiana to the Big Ten championship. IU was tied 3-3 with Maryland with a penalty kick in hand. If Thomas scored, the Hoosiers would move on.
Thomas took four steps on his run-up and finessed a shot into the bottom right corner of the net. It skimmed Maryland goalkeeper Dayne St. Clair’s glove, and cuddled into the corner of the net — sending the Hoosiers to the Big Ten championship.
Hysteria ensued, and Gutman’s prayer was answered. After failing to win a trophy last season and coming so close to a Big Ten and national championship, Gutman felt a sense of relief. Even though it wasn’t the championship match, it still meant a lot to him and the team to come out on top.
“This team means a lot to me,” Gutman said. “This program means a lot to me. I’m giving my heart and soul out there every game, and I want to give us trophies. I want to give us as many success stories I can for this program.”
It was a cold, windy day at Grand Park, and it began to snow with five minutes left in the first half. The ball floated in the air any time a cross was sent into either team’s box and was corralled every time by both goalkeepers.
It changed the way both teams played. Maryland was forced to keep a conservative formation throughout most of the match, and Indiana kept its passes on the ground rather than through the air.
Gutman was Indiana’s lone goal-scorer after making a run from the middle of the field. He danced around multiple defenders and eventually poked the ball past St. Clair to give the Hoosiers a 1-0 lead. It would be cancelled out just 10 minutes later after Maryland’s Ben Di Rosa scored off a counter attack.
The two teams went back-and-forth for 110 minutes, and no matter how many chances either side had, it felt like the type of game that would be decided on penalty kicks — the Achilles heel of Indiana in the Big Ten Tournament. The Hoosiers fell in penalties in the tournament for the last two years — both times against Wisconsin.
This time around, the Hoosiers were on the other side of the coin.
“It’s been a tough run for us in the Big Ten, so we turned the script,” IU Head Coach Todd Yeagley said. “That’s the story of this year’s team. We’ve been really close the past couple of years, and now we got the regular season [championship]. Now, we’re 90 minutes away from the postseason one.”
Yeagley said he felt comfortable putting Thomas fifth in line during penalty kicks. In practice, Thomas hardly ever misses from the spot. With so much pressure, Yeagley knew he needed someone who wouldn’t let it get to him.
“Cory doesn’t think much about it,” Yeagley said. “He’s got ice in his veins.”
For the past few weeks, the Hoosiers have been practicing penalty kicks for that exact moment, and a friendly competition arises out of those drills. Yeagley said last season that the team always prepares for penalty kicks during this part of the year.
Friday afternoon, it finally paid off.
“We kind of joke with our coaches that maybe it’s a little too much, but at the end of the day it works,” Gutman said.