There couldn’t have been more on the line for No. 2 IU in its Elite Eight matchup against No. 7 Michigan State, and the battle lived up to its billing.
A trip to Philadelphia, a College Cup berth and winning possibly the best matchup of the NCAA Tournament awaited the victor of the rematch of Big Ten Conference teams from earlier this season.
Both teams had a chance to win the Big Ten Regular Season Championship on Oct. 29, and neither team came out with any hardware when the day ended.
It slipped out of the grasps of both sides, and Friday night was the chance for redemption.
The NCAA Tournament quarterfinal matchup had everything you could’ve wished for in a soccer game. It was physical, gritty and emotional on all levels, and the ending couldn’t have played out any other way.
It also was a game of firsts for the Hoosiers, who found themselves trailing for the first time this season after Michigan State junior forward DeJuan Jones’ cross connected with junior forward Ryan Sierakowski’s head in the second minute.
There couldn’t have been more pressure put on IU at that point, and what better man to do it than the Spartans’ leading goal scorer.
Sierakowski also ran in front of the IU bench after his magnificent flick header, hushing the crowd and putting the Hoosiers’ season on life-support.
Never this season had the Hoosiers been put in a more uncomfortable situation.
Not against then-No. 2 Maryland on the road, not against then-No. 7 Notre Dame and surely not at Butler, where IU played its worst game of the season.
Even though Wisconsin beat IU in the Big Ten Championship game, IU never trailed at any point in that game. It just never happened.
Never before had this team been put in a situation like this, and Hoosier fans couldn’t have seen a better game unfold before their eyes at Bill Armstrong Stadium.
Fast forward 57 minutes, and into the second half, where junior midfielder Trevor Swartz had the audacity to try and swing in a corner kick into the back of the net, at such a tight angle.
But he did it anyways, and it worked to perfection.
Big Ten Goalkeeper of the Year, Michigan State junior Jimmy Hague, had no idea where the ball was going.
Swartz literally placed the ball where no one could react in time to clear it, and it saved IU's season.
Time and time again IU dominated games in the past, but struggled to put together a winning performance when it needed it the most.
It happened against Maryland, it happened against Michigan, it happened against Michigan State and it happened against Wisconsin in the Big Ten Tournament. The issue ended up costing the Hoosiers both Big Ten Titles, two of the goals set by the team earlier this season.
It wouldn’t end their third.
The two sides combined for six yellow cards and multiple fouls through 110 minutes of open play. The intensity was brought by the Hoosier Army, who showed up 5,450-people strong on Friday night, good enough for the sixth-largest crowd in Bill Armstrong Stadium history.
This game had everything you could’ve wanted from a NCAA Tournament Elite Eight matchup.
It couldn’t have ended in a more dramatic fashion either.
The game went to penalty kicks, which had been a monkey on IU’s back in recent history.
The Hoosiers hadn’t won a game that was decided by penalties in more than four years, and they had also been the victim of this very result in three consecutive years in the Big Ten Tournament.
That trend ended on Friday night.
Freshman goalkeeper Trey Muse was IU’s savior, making three saves, and sending his team to its 19th College Cup in program history.
IU finally overcame the one thing that had hampered them for so long, and it was followed by the entire student section storming the field, embracing the IU goalkeeper with open arms and high hopes for the remainder of this season.
It is the first time since 2012 that IU has made it to the College Cup, a year where they won it all.
The Hoosiers finally got over that hump, and the "Quest For Nine" continues.
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