First it was Ben Yeagley. Then it was Joe Schmidt. Then Victor Bezerra, twice. And a slew of other players strewn across Jerry Yeagley Field on Sunday afternoon, clutching various parts of their ailing bodies.
For a moment, it felt like Indiana couldn’t catch a break. But neither could Rutgers. From missed calls to no-calls to injuries and more, Sunday’s Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals turned a soccer match into a proverbial football game.
Indiana, however, withstood the punishment for long enough to topple Rutgers, 1-0, and advance to the Big Ten Tournament semifinals on Wednesday against Northwestern. Freshman forward Sam Sarver scored the only goal of the match in the 27th minute after taking a well-placed pass from junior forward Herbert Endeley and burying a shot to the far post past Rutgers goalkeeper Oren Asher.
The key ingredient for the Hoosiers’ revenge win over the Scarlet Knights? Simply, competing.
“I thought we fought hard,” Yeagley said. “The response from last Sunday was competing. We just didn’t compete hard enough that last game, and there was some things we missed here and there, but we competed, every player.”
The “last game” that Yeagley referred to was Indiana’s 2-0 loss last weekend at Maryland, which effectively squashed all hopes of a fourth-straight Big Ten regular season title for the Hoosiers. However, the lack of competitiveness became too glaring of a problem that Yeagley felt changes were needed.
One of the sources of IU’s deficiencies, though, came from an unlikely name: sixth-year left back Spencer Glass.
“He just didn’t put out the effort that we needed last game,” Yeagley said, “and it’s inexcusable. And he owned up on it, so I thought it was important for him to come off the bench.”
So that’s exactly what Yeagley and the coaching staff did to begin the postseason, bench Glass. Perhaps it was the wake-up call that IU’s captain and unequivocal leader needed, to see the game unravel from the metal bench in order to reignite the competitive spark within himself.
“Spencer and I had long talks this week,” Yeagley said. “It was not the performance (we expect from him) or the way he handled that (Maryland) game, and sometimes you have to come sit with the staff a little bit.”
Glass wasn’t the only regular starter who took an unfamiliar seat on the bench beside him. Senior right back Nyk Sessock also found his name absent from the starting XI, and in their place stepped junior Brett Bebej at right back and sophomore Lawson Redmon at left back.
The revamped backline was an adjustment, said IU junior center back Daniel Munie, but not one that felt awkward or unadaptable.
“It wasn’t too different,” Munie said. “We know whoever goes in they’re going to do a good job.”
Glass and Sessock didn’t have to wait long before getting the call to enter the game, though. Within 20 minutes of the opening whistle, Glass had already spelled Redmon and Sessock began readying himself to come on for Bebej.
The quick substitution seemed to give the Hoosiers a shot in the arm, too, following a shaky opening 15 minutes. The Scarlet Knights nearly found the back of the net twice in the early moments as the Hoosiers struggled to limit giveaways and clear balls out of the box.
Once Glass entered, however, a light bulb seemingly switched on for IU. And less than 12 minutes after asserting himself into the match, Sarver found the back of the net and scored the lone tally needed to advance IU in the Big Ten Tournament.
“This was the week that we were like hey, for us to make the run we want,” Yeagley said, “we’ve got to have a couple things, experiment, but obviously it’s not one where it’s the first time we did it.”
And Indiana really had no choice but to experiment a bit, especially with the amount of injury stoppages that occurred throughout the second half.
In one instance, IU junior midfielder Ben Yeagley collided heads with a Rutgers defender after attempting to play a ball in front of the net. The collision immediately elicited both teams’ trainers to run onto the field, though both players eventually walked off under their own power.
In another instance, senior midfielder Joe Schmidt and another Rutgers player crashed into each other while trying to head away an airborne ball. The immediate aftermath looked like a car crash had just taken place at midfield, but extensive stoppage time wasn’t necessary for either player.
Then there was the first of Bezerra’s two blows in the second half that left him rolling on the ground. After jockeying for a loose ball at midfield, Bezerra took an inadvertent hit to the head that was severe enough to elicit a video replay review from the match official. No card was eventually shown to either side.
Nonetheless, the plethora of knocks and pauses in the second half eventually took its toll on the game flow.
“The game stalled out a bit,” Yeagley said. “Obviously the stoppages, with looking at the reviews, that kind of killed the tempo. The game didn’t really have a good flow for either team.”
With tempo and flow at premium, Rutgers’ urgency to find the equalizing goal was impeded at nearly every turn. In the second half, the Scarlet Knights were only able to get off four shots, while the Hoosiers backline was more than happy to play conservative and play out of their own defensive end.
In fact, with less than 15 minutes left to play, Yeagley deferred to a defensive-heavy lineup that included Nate Ward, Maouloune Goumballe, Sessock, Quinten Helmer and Redmon all re-enter the game in the late stages. In total, IU played seven different players off the bench.
“I think our depth is going to carry this team to the farthest point,” Yeagley said. “I really believe that.”
And that depth will be put to the test on Wednesday afternoon against Northwestern, which defeated two-seeded Maryland in penalty kicks on Sunday afternoon for the right to play Indiana in the semifinals.
Although it won’t be the chance at vengeance against the Terrapins that some Hoosiers were hoping for, a second postseason match at home makes it a much easier pill to swallow.
“There’s part of the group that really wanted to go to Maryland, to be honest with you,” Yeagley said, “because it left a bitter taste. But any time you can play in front of your home fans, it trumps anything.”