IU knew what it had to play for Tuesday night.
Not only was it senior night for Simon Waever, Sean Caulfield, Jordan Kleyn and Joris Ahlinvi, but the conference title was potentially in play.
With an IU win and a Maryland result in Happy Valley against Penn State, IU would’ve clinched the Big Ten outright.
Penn State got a game-winner in overtime, but the objective for the Hoosiers remained the same against Ohio State. They controlled their destiny with a win and got that and more in a 5-1 victory over the Buckeyes.
“It’s obviously crucial,” freshman forward Josh Penn said. “I think we’re a lot more focused on finishing our chances and obviously the Big Ten’s closing. Getting three points tonight was huge.”
Even on senior night, the freshmen dominated the attack for Indiana. It may sound like a broken record, but this freshman class is different than your normal one. It’s someone new every single match.
Last Friday against Rutgers, midfielder Aidan Morris was the star of the match. This Tuesday night, Victor Bezerra and Penn helped secure three crucial points in Indiana’s conference title pursuit.
In the seventh minute, redshirt junior defender Spencer Glass played a ball into the 6-yard box that Bezerra tapped into the back of the net to start the scoring.
Just two-and-a-half minutes later, freshman forward Herbert Endeley earned a free kick from outside the 18-yard box that set up an absolute stunner from Bezerra to earn him a brace and the Hoosiers a 2-0 lead.
To add insult to injury, Penn iced the game as he beat a defender and fired a left-footed shot into the bottom right corner off the net to put IU up 3-0. Then again in the 60th minute, his chip shot put the Hoosiers four goals clear.
IU has found an offensive spark that it hasn’t seen all season. After the match with Maryland, IU’s attack looked all but dormant. Since then, IU has fired in 13 goals.
The quality of opposition has wavered over the last week, but the offensive steak provides a glimpse of optimism as IU heads toward what it figures to be a long postseason run.
“Scoring early is nice,” Bezerra said. “We’ve been doing it for the past three games and it’s something we want to keep doing. It implements confidence in the whole team.”
By no means was IU surprised with the result against Ohio State. The Buckeyes had lost four straight and had only won a single match since Sept. 17.
But IU steadily controlled the first half and took care of business in the final regular season match at Bill Armstrong Stadium. Ohio State and IU exchanged goals late in the match but the difference had already been made.
Now, all eyes turn to East Lansing on Sunday as IU goes for back-to-back Big Ten titles. For the second straight year, IU controls its own destiny heading into match day eight against Michigan State.
The Big Ten regular season title is not only one of three goals that IU sets each year, along with the conference tournament title and NCAA Tournament title, but it will go a long way in boosting IU’s RPI for tournament seeding.
There’s a fine line between the top teams in the country. One slip up at the end of the season could make a difference between hosting a late tournament matchup and playing one on the road.
IU has hosted all the way up to the College Cup the past two years. It thrives on its home field, undefeated in its past 36 matches in Bloomington.
That makes winning the Big Ten regular season title outright that much more important and it all comes down to winning in East Lansing on Sunday.
“Just go win,” IU head coach Todd Yeagley said. “We know if we just take care of business then we’ll win it. Whether it be at home or on the road, they both can be special.”
By all means, the questions around IU that swirled after the 3-0 defeat at Maryland can be put aside for the time being.
The Hoosiers have hit a stride over the past three contests and once again control their own destiny in the Big Ten.
On the final day of the regular season, IU will be playing for two things: A Big Ten title and a chance for prime momentum heading into the postseason.