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Column: It was right there for Hoosiers

The Hoosiers played their most inspired game of the year, giving No. 15 Iowa everything it wanted and more, and yet IU came up one play short — again.

The defense took the bend-but-don’t-break mantra to the extreme, allowing 445 total yards but only 18 points. It held an explosive Iowa offense out of the end zone on four consecutive red zone visits, resulting in — get this — nine points.

Senior quarterback Ben Chappell and the offense, which had struggled mightily the last two weeks, did enough to win the football game.

Trea Burgess ran the ball hard and took advantage of holes he hasn’t seen since taking over for Darius Willis. Receivers Tandon Doss and Damarlo Belcher gave an extra effort on every one of their catches.

The play-calling — and coaching in general — was great, something I haven’t said all year.

Lynch was as animated as ever, defending his players by continuously getting in the face of officials after bad calls (he had a case on several).

Offensive coordinator Matt Canada went to the play-action pass in usual running situations. He went with running plays on less predictable downs. And he called a brilliant final drive to put the Hoosiers in position to win the game.

And yet, it came down to the one play, a fourth-and-10 from the Iowa 18-yard line.

After the Hoosiers (4-5, 0-5) failed to convert on first, second and third down, I figured the game was over and IU would leave the field with another tough loss — a surprise to no one.

But everything about the last play made it look like the Hoosiers were destined for
the upset.

The blocking was solid, as it was all game, holding off a strong defensive front to give Chappell a chance to make a play.

Chappell hung in the pocket, even when the pressure got to him, and delivered a perfect ball over the middle.

But Belcher, a guy who has made big plays all season for the Hoosiers, saw the ball go in and out of his hands. He was all alone, poised to make the catch that changed IU’s season, and he couldn’t do it.

It couldn’t have been any closer.

“It was a great call by coach (Canada),” Chappell said. “The safety was wide, and I knew I got it over the (line)backer.”

It was a catch Belcher has to make, a catch he has made so many times before. But it’s hard for me to put too much of the blame on the receiver because without him, the Hoosiers wouldn’t have had that opportunity in the first place. It was Belcher, remember, who make the remarkable grab in front of three Iowa defenders on a big third-down play only moments earlier.

But for whatever reason, this team can never win a game like this. The Hoosiers were close against Michigan, Northwestern, Wisconsin and Iowa a year ago. They’ve had their chances against the Wolverines, Wildcats and Hawkeyes again this season.

This one, though, unlike the others, was a game IU won without actually winning. They Hoosiers didn’t only try to compete with Iowa, they played to win.

The Hoosiers did everything right. They erased the memories of so many past losing efforts in a way I didn’t believe was possible.

The win was in Belcher’s hands — everybody thought he had caught it.

“I was staring right at it. I jumped up when he caught it. And then I was coming down as he was coming down, and he dropped it,” wide receiver Duwyce Wilson said. “It’s
just unfortunate.”

“I was on the sideline, and I thought he caught it,” defensive back Greg Heban added. “Damarlo gave it his all, and the defensive player just came in at the last second and made a good play.”

When the IU players and coaches look back at the season, this is the game that will give them indigestion.

The win that would change everything was there for the taking, and the Hoosiers could not grab it.


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