And then …
A last-second defeat.
Are you kidding?
IU lost a 41-39 heartbreaker when Ball State's Steven Schott kicked a 43-yard field goal as time expired. That ended a furious final four minutes when the Hoosiers rallied from the brink behind true freshman quarterback Nate Sudfeld to get a lead it couldn't hold.
“I thought we played well,” coach Kevin Wilson said. “I appreciate the way they hung in there and battled.”
The Hoosiers (2-1) trailed 38-25 with just over four minutes left when Sudfeld hit Cody Latimer with a 70-yard touchdown pass. After a defensive stop, Sudfeld drove IU 77 yards for the go-ahead touchdown. It came on a 2-yard pass to Shane Wynn with 53 seconds left.
Ball State (2-1) had one last chance. It got within field goal range when Willie Snead made an 18-yard diving catch near the sidelines at the IU 25-yard line with 1 second left. The catch was close enough to being out of bounds for the officials to review it. The play stood and Schott hit the game winner.
“We hit a couple of shots,” Wilson said about the late touchdowns. “We did a nice job on the two-minute drive. We just couldn't finish it off.
“It was a line of scrimmage game. I give that to Ball State. That's probably the one thing that gave them the edge because they got us there.”
Ball State has won the last three meetings with IU.
Even when things were at the worst, Sudfeld said, the Hoosiers never lost hope.
“It's never over,” he said. “The coaches have shown us a million situations where teams come back. We came back, but it's unfortunate for us they made some big plays at the end.
“Emotions were high and low. We tried to stay level headed. You can't let the highs too high and the lows too low.”
Sudfeld didn't play until the fourth quarter, when a hip pointer to starter Cam Coffman caused Wilson to switch to Sudfeld, who finished 13-for-20 for 172 yards and two TDs.
Coffman's strong first half (23-for-31, 229 yards, two touchdowns, no interceptions) didn't extend to the second half (1-for-4, 22 yards), but that wasn't the reason why he didn't play in the fourth quarter, Wilson said. Coffman, a junior college transfer making his first start for IU, couldn't push off with the injury.
Running back Stephen Houston returned to last season's form with 102 rushing yards on just 12 carries.
For about five first-quarter minutes the Hoosiers regressed to last year's ineptitude. They gave up touchdown passes of 2 yards and 34 yards, did nothing on offense. The result was a 14-3 deficit.
But the Hoosiers bounced back behind a invigorated offensive line, Houston's hard running and aggressive defense. They scored 14 straight points on Houston's 13-yard touchdown run and Kofi Hughes' 9-yard TD catch from Coffman to go ahead 17-14.
Ball State countered with 10 straight points on Schott's 51-yard field goal and Jahwan Edwards' 1-yard TD run.
Indiana then went 78 yards on 15 plays, the final 3 coming on a pass from Coffman to Latimer. A substitution penalty by Ball State made Wilson switch from an extra point attempt to a 2-point conversion try. It worked when Houston ran it in for a 25-24 halftime score.
Ball State came out strong in the third quarter. It faked out IU with receiver Jamill Smith's 12-yard TD pass to Wenning to put the Cardinals ahead 31-25. Wenning hit Zane Fakes with an 11-yard TD pass late in the third quarter to make it 38-25.
That's where it stayed until, with 4:07 left, IU got a huge break when Ball State blew its pass coverage, leaving Latimer wide open. Sudfeld hit him and he sprinted for a 70-yard touchdown.
Ball State had a chance to run out the clock, but failed on a third-and-one run. It punted, leaving IU 77 yards away from the end zone. Three pass interference penalties and some clutch passing and catching gave IU the break it seemingly needed.
But it wasn't enough.