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Starr's fieldgoal gives IU Old Oaken Bucket

Sunday, November 18, 2007

By MICHAEL MAROT

AP Sports Writer

BLOOMINGTON -- Austin Starr's 49-yard kick Saturday felt perfect from the moment it left his foot.

He hit it square, hit it long, hit it for the Bucket and to salvage Indiana's bowl hopes. Then, with the ball in midair, Starr had another thought: He hit it just like coach Terry Hoeppner taught him -- with confidence.

"Right after I kicked it, I looked up at the sky and thought about that," Starr said after beating Purdue 27-24. "This season, this game was for coach Hep."

The Hoosiers (7-5, 3-5 Big Ten) prevailed just the way Hoeppner, who died in June from complications of a brain tumors, always said they would: By overcoming adversity.

Kellen Lewis ran for two touchdowns, Marcus Thigpen ran for a career-high 140 yards and Starr made a career-long field goal with 30 seconds left as the resilient Hoosiers rebounded after blowing a 21-point second half lead to win back the Bucket and likely earn their first bowl bid since 1993.

Where they'll end up didn't seem to matter as much, given Saturday's other accomplishments:

-- They ended a five-game losing streak to the archrival Boilermakers, winning for only the second time in 11 games.

-- They earned their seventh win for the first time since 1993 and all but assured themselves of making a postseason trip.

-- They won in front of the first home sellout crowd this season and with the 1967 Rose Bowl team and Hoeppner's family in attendance.

-- And, of course, they finally carried off the Bucket to a wild celebration that included Jane Hoeppner, the coach's widow, hugging Starr on the field.

"I think in the end, when it came down to it, they just would not quit, and what a perfect tribute to coach Hep," Jane Hoeppner said. "But that's how they won it, by absolutely not quitting."

For Purdue (7-5, 3-5), it was a nightmarish finish to a once promising season.

The Boilermakers' usually proficient offense spent most of three quarters stuck in neutral, and their ground game went nowhere. Curtis Painter was 28-of-45 for 279 yards with one touchdown and one interception, and Purdue had only 78 yards rushing after being held to minus-12 yards in the first half.

Now the Boilermakers have lost three straight, including their first to Indiana since 2001.

Coach Joe Tiller thought one difference was the emotional levels the teams played at.

"I think they were probably at an all-time high," Tiller said.

Still, that wasn't the prevailing feeling late in the game at Memorial Stadium.

The crowd, which had been noisy all day and sensed a rout in the third quarter, was quickly silenced by Purdue's scoring flurry.

Kory Sheets made it 24-10 with a 1-yard TD run late in the third quarter, then made it 24-17 with another 1-yard scoring run with 6:15 left in the game.

Four plays later, Thigpen, who shredded the Boilermakers' defense most of the day, almost gave the game away with a fumble at the Indiana 36. Purdue's Alex Magee recovered, and two plays later, Painter found a wide-open Jake Standeford for a 5-yard TD pass to tie it 3:39 remaining.

In another year or another game, that rally might have been the Hoosiers' undoing.

But not Saturday with the sour memories of last season's loss to the Boilermakers in Hoeppner's finale.

Lewis, whose nifty mix of runs and passes kept Purdue off balance all day, managed the clock and play-calling perfectly and led the Hoosiers on a 12-play, 45-yard drive that used up all but 30 seconds.

It was good enough to get Indiana into field-goal range, barely, and then it was up to Starr, who had missed a 42-yarder seven minutes earlier and spent the entire week dreaming about this chance.

"I had envisioned this moment and prepared myself for this moment all week, being the guy to beat Purdue with a kick," Starr said.

Starr knocked it down the middle, barely clearing the crossbar. He finished the game with a new single-season field goal record (19), breaking the mark Pete Stoyanoich established in 1988 (17).

James Hardy, who caught 10 passes for 87 yards and one touchdown, also broke Indiana's single season record for receptions Saturday. Ernie Jones had 66 in 1987; Hardy, now one of four Hoosiers with 1,000 yards receiving in a season, has 74 this year.

But it wasn't the numbers, the win, the probable bowl bid or even the streaming line of students and fans climbing out of the stands and running onto the field that stoked Indiana's emotions.

It was the thought of how Hoeppner would have reacted to all this.

"He would be so proud of those kids," coach Bill Lynch said. "We were just in there and we just put the 'I' in the Bucket and Jane put the 'I' in the Bucket. I know he would be proud of these kids."



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