JT Harms outstretched his arms just enough.
The mere length of the goalkeeper's fingertips re-directed Bowling Green's short free kick into the goal post, and back into danger. Harms immediately sprang from the ground. Stumbling and off balance, he blocked two more point-blank strikes before letting out a thrilling yell.
The entire Bowling Green bench was stunned. Some jolted forward. Others leaned backward. Most commonly put their hands behind their head in disbelief and sunk into their seats. The Falcons' then-best chance to seize the lead during the 120-minute preseason exhibition match slipped away — moments from the end of the second 30-minute segment.
But five minutes from the final whistle, a shove in the box resulting in a penalty kick, presented the Falcons with their new greatest opportunity — and they easily scored without much contest. Indiana’s five-player wall shielding the goal was absent, and the ball stood about six or seven yards closer to the net than the aforementioned free kick. Bowling Green players all over the field converged toward the corner flag to loudly celebrate what was the go-ahead and match-winning 1-0 goal Tuesday night at Grand Park Sports Campus.
"Bowling Green's a good team — very spirited," Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley said following the defeat. "We won't play a team that's more bought in from every player. We got their bench — it's a lot of noise, yet there's a lot of belief. I think our performance was OK at best."
Whether the Falcons were motivated to avenge a 2-0 loss at the hands of Indiana in last year's NCAA Tournament, or best a fellow preseason top-25 team, Yeagley credited their vibrancy all over the field throughout the match. From the get-go, several Bowling Green players shouted enthusiastically whenever Indiana desperately cleared the ball or miscommunicated on a pass that wound up out of bounds. Their press entrapped the Hoosiers from rarely reaching the attacking third in the first 30-minute segment.
"I told the guys you're gonna get a team that's gonna play this game as though it's an NCAA Tournament game," Yeagley said. "Not to say we don't want to approach it the same way, but we have to be able to match that. And we didn't tonight... that played throughout the whole game, so that's an area we didn't respond to as well. We'll continue to work on that."
Yeagley recognized the team lacked haste to score, despite positively adapting to Bowling Green's style of play over time. In fact, the Hoosiers arguably unlocked their best soccer in the waning minutes of the match down one score — retaking momentum away from Bowling Green — as the Falcons' bench anxiously quieted down and held its breath.
"That is a positive," Yeagley said. "And the flip side was that the urgency wasn't there a lot."
Sure, any team in the country expectedly appears more assertive when attempting to tally the equalizer with little time on the clock. But in that tiny fraction of the match, Indiana's passes smoothly found their mark, players seemed more confident, and the team created two promising late chances in the box. The Hoosiers' best all-around soccer arrived too late, though it did show face. Yeagley's first word when commenting on overall play from Tuesday? Inconsistent.
But Yeagley's simply looking for improvements heading into the team's third and final exhibition at Louisville on Friday night — now with urgency and other focal points such as allowing too many opposing chances on the agenda.
"You don't want to hit your mental and physical stride game two in preseason," Yeagley said. "You just want to keep building and add layers and challenge guys — which we did with some of the responses they had. You want to elevate that going into that last game. So this next game, yes, we will continue to try to push the temperature."