The final whistle had sounded, fans had already left, yet Indiana players still lingered under the lights, passing amongst one another.
"They're a little bigger than they were," Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley joked in the postgame opening statement.
He wasn't talking about his current team.
Instead, he referred to players he coached from the 2012 NCAA National Champion squad — Yeagley's first banner in just his third season as Indiana's head coach.
The champs were back in town. And nearly two hours prior, Indiana honored them in front of fans — also in plain view of the team's current roster — right before they geared up to face undefeated No. 9 Akron.
The veterans stood not only as a remnant of past success, but also as current motivation. Forward Nate Ward expressed it was an honor playing in front of them. Forward Maouloune Goumballe felt inspired.
"All of us are aspiring to win the national championship," Goumballe said. "To see those guys who really did come and support us, it's powerful, and it gives us that extra drive."
There was no better time for encouragement. The Hoosiers' momentum hung in the balance. They had recently defeated St. John's 1-0 Tuesday night to earn their first win and shutout — after allowing six goals in the first two matches. Now was the time to find a groove, not grow closer to the drain.
What followed was one of the best, if not the best, halves of soccer Indiana has played this season. At half, the Hoosiers' maintained a 9-2 shot advantage — and none of Akron's shots were on target. Samuel Sarver buried a header from a Herbert Endeley cross into the box.
And Nate Ward soon scored the match's second goal as if he were sliding into second base to quickly put Indiana ahead 2-0.
"I was just fired up," Ward said postgame. "First goal of the season felt good. It was a hell of a ball from Karsen [Henderlong]. We knew we had it in us, and we just wanted to take the game to them."
Indiana finished the match with 19 shots, 11 of which were on target, compared to Akron's sparse four shots, with only one on target. Coming into the match, the Zips had put up 15 goals in their first four matches.
The first thing that comes to mind? Indiana's relentless offense clamped down on Akron so much that it never reached the attacking third. After all, Akron had as many shots as it does wins. But there were more than four moments when Indiana's defense was called upon. And Yeagley made sure to credit the strong defense — which churned into a formidable offense.
"Our team defending won this game, first and foremost," Yeagley said. "Because of the way we turned them over at key spots generated a lot more attacks and (I'm) just really pleased."
Joey Maher's perfect one-on-one slide tackle dangerously in the box with no immediate help nearby perfectly encapsulated the night — Indiana was never going to back down.
Two goals probably could have been enough to seal the deal, and it was, as the Hoosiers won 2-0 to seal back-to-back wins. Yet during the match, Indiana opted for that nail in the coffin. To get that third goal. Three spectacular point-blank saves from Akron goalkeeper Mitch Budler saved the Zips from that fate.
Sure, Yeagley said that his team should have finished some shots in the second half, and others were unlucky misses. But there's always room for improvement. For now, Yeagley said there are lots of reasons to smile, especially winning in front of former players.
"I had a really good time tonight reminiscing and talking about… they're almost good old days now," Yeagley said. "That's a lot of time."
The Hoosiers must stay alert, though. There's not much time before they face yet another top-15 opponent, No. 12 Butler, on the road Wednesday night.
The 2012 team lost to Akron during the regular season that year, yet beat Butler. Perhaps Indiana could avenge its veterans.
"I told you the [current] guys tonight, I go, you know you're playing to leave your mark,” Yeagley said. “But just know that there's a lot of pride being displayed here tonight with who's here and what it means."