WEST LAFAYETTE — Freshman cornerback Tiawan Mullen was on the sideline, watching a first and goal for his offense to potentially win the game against Purdue in double overtime on Saturday.
He was fresh off a big defensive stop as Purdue had to settle for a field goal to begin the second OT, taking its first lead of the game at 41-38.
Junior quarterback Peyton Ramsey took the snap under center, shuffled a little to his right before getting his body across the goal line on a QB sneak for an Indiana touchdown. White jerseys piled one on top of the other, Mullen included, to celebrate the Hoosiers’ game-winning touchdown over the Boilermakers, defeating their rival 44-41 to secure the Old Oaken Bucket and reach their eighth win of the season for the first time since 1993.
It was a season-defining play to complete a season-defining win for a team that is known for late-game struggles, especially against the in-state rival. For Mullen, who has emerged as the Hoosiers’ best cornerback in his inaugural campaign, he remained calm and collected seconds before Ramsey’s score.
“I wasn’t surprised,” Mullen said. “Peyton’s a hard-fought quarterback. Everybody can see. He takes big hits and he gets back on. He do what he do. That’s Peyton.”
It was the perfect culmination for Ramsey, who lost the starting job from a year ago during fall camp only to lead the Hoosiers in the second half of the season after Michael Penix went down with an injury.
“Very emotional, very prideful,” Ramsey said. “Just seeing all the guys come together and celebrate this was awesome.”
It was an even more emotional feeling for head coach Tom Allen, who has gone 5-7 in his first two seasons as head coach, being eliminated in this very game by Purdue, only to see them advance to a bowl game while his team went back to the drawing board.
But Saturday was different, and Allen was thankful to IU athletic director Fred Glass and IU President Michael McRobbie, who were both in attendance at Ross-Ade Stadium.
“Living the dream,” Allen said. “It’s been pretty awesome. I’m proud of this team. I appreciate the opportunity I’ve been given, and I wanted this so bad for our university, alumni and all the people that supported us and invested in this program. To get the eighth win and the Bucket all in the same time is pretty special.”
With an 8-4 record, the Hoosiers will find out their postseason destination on Dec. 8. As for Purdue, they finish the season 4-8, which is the least amount of wins they’ve had in a season since 2016.
Even though the Boilermakers weren’t playing for a bowl game, it didn’t prevent them from making the game interesting. They were down 21-10 at halftime, but stormed back in the fourth quarter, outscoring the Hoosiers 14-3 to force overtime.
They Boilermakers took advantage of three missed field goals from Indiana to crawl back in the game at the end.
“I’m very proud of our football team for the effort they gave us today,” Purdue head coach Jeff Brohm said. “They hung in there when things didn’t look good early on. They fought till the end. We had a chance to win at the end, and unfortunately came up short.”
Despite the loss, the Boilermakers saw big performances from a lot of their young players.
Sophomore quarterback Aidan O’Connell finished the game with 408 passing yards and three touchdowns, sophomore running back Zander Horvath had 164 rushing yards and two touchdowns, and freshman wide receiver David Bell had nine catches for 138 yards and one touchdown.
Players like that stepped up throughout most of the year in what was an injury-riddled season for Purdue. They were without starting quarterback Jack Plummer as well as one of the nation’s best wideouts in Rondale Moore, who were both out in the final month of the season.
Although 4-8 isn’t what Brohm and the Boilers hoped for, this season allowed the team’s youth to gain valuable experience — like Saturday’s double-overtime game against a big in-state rival — for the future of the program.
“I do think progress is being made,” Brohm said. “We’ve got to find ways to get more guys to put in all the effort it takes in order to win at a high level. To win at this level in Big Ten competition, you’ve gotta be big, strong, physical and have some depth, and we’ve got to improve in those areas.”