It was only a matter of time, and Maouloune Goumballe knew it.
Whether it was his first goal of the season or Indiana finally stringing together a consistent run of results, one way or another, in Goumballe’s mind, both outcomes were bound to come to fruition sooner than later.
And on Tuesday night under the lights at Bill Armstrong Stadium, the junior forward spoke it into existence as Indiana handled Ohio State, 3-0, in arguably the Hoosiers’ most complete performance of the season. Goumballe, freshman Tommy Mihalic and junior Brett Bebej each netted a goal, while All-American goalkeeper Roman Celentano denied four shots to lead IU to a crucial conference victory.
“It’s a Big Ten game, and obviously we knew it was going to be a big game for both teams,” Goumballe said after the match. “We wanted to come in and put ’em down early.”
The match wasn’t just an ordinary conference tilt for Indiana, though. And neither was the collective sigh of relief and joy as the scoreboard ran down and read 00:00.
The Hoosiers were playing for so much more against the Buckeyes — they were playing for associate head coach and longtime Indiana assistant Kevin Robson, who could not attend the game due to the recent passing of his father, IU head coach Todd Yeagley announced after the match.
“This is a game that our players obviously wanted to win for his family,” Yeagley said. “… We kind of dedicated this game to Kevin.”
With the added motivation and 2,154 roaring fans in its corner, the Hoosiers came out firing from the opening whistle.
In the 18th minute, Mihalic and junior forward Herbert Endeley teamed up to break into the scoring column first.
Endeley danced his way to the top of the 18-yard box before curving a nifty pass to the streaking Mihalic on the left flank. After a momentary pause to dissect his options, coupled with a savvy run from senior left-back Spencer Glass to move Ohio State’s backline out of position, Mihalic blasted a bending shot to the far post that Buckeyes goalkeeper Noah Lawrence had little chance at saving.
“Tommy scored a phenomenal goal, but Spencer’s run created that moment,” Yeagley said, “and we’ve been asking for those moments when we watch video.”
Perhaps the biggest moment of the night didn’t come until the final seconds of the first half, however, as Sam Sarver outran and outmuscled Ohio State’s final line of defense to chase down a long IU pass. With nothing but open space ahead for Sarver, Buckeyes defender Owen Sullivan had no choice but to yank the freshman forward down from behind, which elicited a brisk and immediate red card.
It was a massive blow for Ohio State, not only as Sullivan’s night came to a close due to the automatic ejection, but that the Buckeyes had to endure 45 more minutes in enemy territory with just 10 players on the field.
The end result — a hole far too deep for the Buckeyes to crawl out of.
“The red card changed the game,” Yeagley said. “Sammy (Sarver) has drawn three penalties this year. His speed and his opportunistic mentality really changed the game.”
With the Hoosiers leading 1-0 at halftime and harnessing the man advantage thanks to Mihalic and Sarver, a chance to put the stubborn Buckeyes away for good sat on a proverbial silver platter.
Though playing with leads earlier in the season has caused IU problems, Goumballe wasn’t going to let his moment slip, especially not with three pivotal points in the Big Ten standings up for grabs.
In the 64th minute, celebration ensued.
A misplayed ball from Ohio State’s midfield allowed Victor Bezerra, Goumballe and the Hoosiers to mount a quick counter-attack. It began with the All-American Bezerra, who methodically toed his way to the top of the 18-yard box despite having two defenders draped on him. Goumballe followed closely on his tail.
Then, in an instant, Bezerra left the ball behind for Goumablle who found a slight window of opportunity and rifled a shot past Lawrence from about 20 yards out.
“I know I was hungry for a goal,” Goumballe said. “I knew if I just put my head down and kept working hard, the goals would come, and it came today.”
Saddled with a 2-0 lead late, sophomore defender Lawson Redmond assisted Bebej in the 85th minute to put the final touches on Indiana’s triumph and Ohio State’s last gasp of breath.
It wasn’t just the high-flying Hoosiers’ attack that lifted them over the Buckeyes, though. It was also All-American goalkeeper Roman Celentano, who before Tuesday night hadn’t been mentioned much this season compared to his breakout 2020-21 campaign that saw him earn Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year honors.
Of course, conceding just six goals over an entire season that ended with a run to the National Championship was never going to be easy to replicate. Not for Celentano, and certainly not for a vast majority of goalkeepers at any level.
But against Ohio State, Celentano solidified himself once more with the Hoosier fanbase — though it’s not like he had much more to prove to begin with.
Whether it was punching away with a closed fist a slew of dangerous set pieces and corner kicks inside the 6-yard box, or denying all four shots on frame that the Buckeyes generated, Celentano refused to add a blemish to IU’s otherwise clean score sheet.
“He made one or two big saves that you need a keeper to make,” Yeagley said. “I also feel Roman is getting back into his best form.”
And Yeagley’s right. Following an underwhelming start to the season in which the 6-foot-2 Celentano allowed nine goals in the Hoosiers’ first seven games, questions began to mount, both internally and externally.
Since then, Celentano has seemingly regained his focus and swagger, recording four shutouts in the last five matches.
“The first half of the season, he hasn’t given up that many goals in years,” Yeagley said. “It rattled him a little bit, too… I think now he is in rhythm.”
That rhythm is one the Hoosiers are hoping to sustain, not just for a brief period, but for the entirety of the season.
Sure, IU has yet to meet the lofty expectations set forth at the beginning of the season. But if the recent string of performances, especially Tuesday night, is any indication, the Hoosiers just might be coming together at the most opportune time.
And this version of Indiana, if permanent, is a daunting proposition for the Big Ten and the entire nation.
“We’re definitely seeing results in front of the goal, which we were missing in the first half of the season,” Goumballe said. “Things are are starting to click offensively, and I definitely think we’re starting to find our stride.”