What started as a football game on Saturday quickly turned into a track meet. It ended as a miracle.
It took a lot for Indiana football to come back against Western Kentucky. A long, game-tying eight-point drive in the waning minutes of the fourth quarter. A missed Western Kentucky field goal with no time left in regulation and a blocked kick by Jaylin Williams. And Charles Campbell’s leg.
When Campbell reached the student section to celebrate his 51-yard kick, his fist pumping in the air on the way over, the scoreboard read that Indiana had escaped with a 33-30 win.
“It’s my job to go out there and kick field goals and it's my job to kick long field goals,” Campbell said to the media after the game. “I’m glad I could do it today.”
For three straight weeks, Indiana has had its back against the wall late in a game. Each week, Indiana has built a late comeback.
“We’re going to be critical of how we play,” head coach Tom Allen said after the game. “We’re going to do a great job holding guys accountable for getting the little things right, but be able to do that with the understanding that we found a way to win three football games at this level.”
Down eight with just under four minutes to go, Indiana began a steady touchdown drive that earned nearly as many yards on defensive penalties as offensive plays. The drive, capped by a touchdown pass to Cam Camper and a completed two-point conversion, looked similar to its game-winning drive against Illinois.
But 47 seconds later, when Western Kentucky seemed primed to send the Hoosiers home on a last-second kick, a little luck gave them life. The field goal sailed wide.
After Williams blocked the field goal attempt in overtime, all Indiana needed to do was score. The overtime drive went nowhere — IU lost eight yards on four plays — but only needed to remain in range for Campbell.
Campbell knew it was good as soon as he kicked it. Allen remembers little about the celebration after.
“I threw my headset off, I threw my call sheet. I just started running after the guys,” Allen said. “And I lost my shoe in the process.”
The Hilltoppers finished with 545 total yards, including 329 passing yards and 216 yards on the ground. But Indiana’s offense kept up, with quarterback Connor Bazelak finishing 33-for-55 for 364 yards, part of Indiana’s 484-yard total.
Western Kentucky, with its up-tempo, no-huddle offense, kept pushing the pace of the game. Indiana’s defense tried to keep up, but for most of three quarters it felt like it wouldn’t hold up long enough to allow the offense to get back in it.
“They’ve got a great offense,” linebacker Cam Jones said. “But also, we have to be in position to make the plays. Coach Allen, he dialed up a couple plays that we were able to be in position to make the plays in a key moment.”
But as much as its defense nearly folded, it prevented Western Kentucky from ever blowing the game open. In five red-zone trips, Western Kentucky’s offense was held to just one touchdown and three field goals. One field goal came late in the fourth quarter, where Indiana didn’t allow a touchdown from six yards out and gave the offense time to tie the game.
The offense came through to back up the defense. Against Western Kentucky, a team that entered Saturday scoring over 43 points per game, Allen knew his team would have to put up at least 30 to have a chance to win.
“Today was just about the best offense on the field,” wide receiver Donaven McCulley said. McCulley, who switched to receiver after playing quarterback last season, had a 48-yard reception and the game-tying two-point catch. “That’s what we talked about in our meetings. We just had to be the best offense on the field today.”
The subtle momentum shift took place late in the game, when Indiana was still trailing. It began with a tipped pass and an interception. Western Kentucky had driven into the end zone and nearly broke the game wide open when a wobbly ball fell into Myles Jackson’s arms. When Indiana drove 90 yards on the ensuing drive, it regained momentum.
“We emphasize takeaways during the third, fourth quarter,” Jones said. “Just to be able to come up with an interception that gave the ball back to our offense… for (Jackson) to do that, it just shows how much we all bring everything together and it takes all phases of the game.”
It also reminded its opponents not to count Indiana out too early.
Bazelak and the Hoosiers have proven themselves a second half team. Through three weeks they went into halftime deeply in trouble before climbing back each time.
“Some things we’re doing right now we gotta get better,” Allen said. “But you just gotta continue to fight. I love the grit of this football team.”
Indiana might be the ugliest 3-0 in the nation and will travel for its first road game of the season next week against Cincinnati. Allen knows there’s plenty to work on, but for now, a win is a win.
“I feel like we're not even close to playing our best football," Allen said.