COLLEGE PARK, Md. — Reese Taylor was in his zone inside the hashmark nearest IU’s sideline. He saw Maryland wide receiver Sean Savoy running a vertical route down field, the man he was supposed to focus on.
“I see the ball in the air, I just had to go make a play,” Taylor said.
Maryland quarterback Ty Pigrome’s pass sailed over the head of Savoy, and Taylor was there. The ball was headed right to him.
Taylor made the catch as he slid to the ground, the arms of Andre Brown and Michael Ziemba immediately thrust up. He stood up as Devon Matthews jumped on him to celebrate, tossed the ball down on the field behind him, and jumped to chest bump Tiawan Mullen near the sideline.
The sideline erupted in the background, running on the field to meet the hero. Jaylin Williams put his arm around Taylor as he looked toward the IU fans in the stands behind the benches.
IU didn’t have Michael Penix. It won possibly the most crucial game of its season thus far anyway.
Taylor made the game sealing interception with a minute to play, a turnover that sealed a 34-28 win. A win that for most of the game was reminiscent of IU losses not just in College Park, but across Big Ten play year after year.
If the 2019 season as proved anything, it’s that IU has found a quarterback for the future.
But in one of the most critical games in a search for bowl eligibility, the Hoosiers were without Michael Penix once again.
On this occasion, it didn’t matter.
Penix was examined by trainers at the end of the first half following a hard hit where multiple Maryland defenders including safety Antoine Brooks fell on him. Penix stayed in the game as the second quarter began. The drive ended as a Penix pass bounced off the hands of Peyton Hendershot and into those of Brooks.
It was the last pass Penix would throw.
IU would do enough to win the game, just barely enough. He flipped the script of a game that all too closely resembled that of the 2017 matchup between these two in College Park. Where IU lost on this same field two years ago in a game that all but ensured IU wouldn’t go bowling, IU won to improve to 5-2 and sit one win shy of a bowl game.
Ramsey knows no snaps are guaranteed for him. But after losing the starting job, he still prepares each week like it will be him, not Penix, running out on the field for the opening possession. That’s why he was ready when he was needed.
“I was really locked in on the game plan,” Ramsey said. “That’s why this is so emotional. You prepare every single week like you’re going to be the guy. You never know. You never know when your number is going to be called.”
"Sometimes in life, when it's hard, that's when we grow the most."
Hey may have not won the starting job this fall, but was certainly ready when called upon tonight.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) October 20, 2019
Ramsey completed 20 of 27 passes for 193 and one touchdown. Stevie Scott has his most important game of the season with 108 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The offense took advantage of a porous Maryland defense, totaling 520 yards.
In a game where IU had a chance to prove itself in a matchup appearing nearly even on paper, the offense still made a statement without Penix. It was able to get by without him in such a crucial game.
The offense didn’t have the same spark and energy it did with Penix. It never will with Ramsey playing. But the lone experienced face in the quarterback room had the type of clutch performance IU desperately needed. And it was all encompassed in a third down run where Ramsey rushed for 15 yards, and took a big hit, to collect a first down on third-and-long.
“It’s savvy, it’s toughness, it’s grit, it’s fight,” Allen said of Ramsey’s run. “He’s just so gritty and tough. That run just exemplifies who he is as a player.”
It’s why for Allen, Ramsey was a clear choice to receive the game ball.
“You take a lot of pride in being the guy, he’s worked his whole life to come here and be that guy,” Allen said. “He made a choice and not just to stay, but to be prepared every week. He prepared this week to be the starter. That’s hard to do.”
The defense, however, proved to be far from the unit that allowed one passing yard to Rutgers a week prior. It allowed 383 yards, and struggled to stop a Maryland offense without its starting quarterback and top running back. A Maryland offense that scored 14 points against the 104th ranked defense of Purdue last week.
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) October 19, 2019
But yet it was the same defense that came up with the game’s most important plays. It bounced back in the second half, and after not being able to stop anything in the first half, it was the defense that was relied on for two stops in the final minutes.
Every time Allen has been to Maryland, the games have been close, coming down to the final possession. IU typically hasn’t had the ball bounce their way in such a spot. The big play doesn’t go its way.
On this night, that didn’t happen.
Maryland took the field at its own 18 yard line down three with 3:50 to play. It was the exact spot where IU has time and time again allowed back-breaking, game-winning drives.
Juwan Burgess began to flip the script as he stripped Javon Leake at the Maryland 16 yard line. IU only got a field goal out of it, forcing the defense to make one more stop.
Maryland began to drive down the field, converting a fourth-and-three as it moved into IU territory. The defense bent, but Taylor didn’t let it break.
“I said at the beginning of the game, I thought takeaways were going to be the key to us winning this game,” Allen said. We waited until the last minute to get them, but we finally got a couple.”
They were the biggest two turnovers of IU’s season.
“It’s about learning how to win,” Allen said. “The defense grows in confidence because of tonight.”
— The Hoosier Network (@TheHoosierNet) October 19, 2019
Coy Cronk scooted out of the locker room as the Maryland band took the field. He looked to the parents and fans remaining in the IU stands, and let out a short, but poignant “Woo!”
Cronk has seen IU fall short of a bowl game time and time again. He had to watch from the sideline as IU improve to 5-2 for the first time since 2007.
Cronk and the rest of the Hoosiers are one win away from bowl eligibility in the third weekend of October.
He’s seen a different IU, a battered IU that proved itself anyway.