It only covered one yard, but it was the biggest run of Zander Diamont’s IU career.
The freshman quarterback faked a handoff to his right, saw a Purdue defensive end bite on a run up the middle, took off past the right edge and high-stepped in the end zone for what proved to be a game-winning score with just 27 seconds remaining in IU’s 23-16 win.
After celebrating, Diamont said he closed his eyes as he stood on the sidelines. He couldn’t watch Purdue’s final drive.
Ultimately, his fears were unwarranted. Twenty-seven seconds was too little time for Purdue to string together a response.
Diamont led IU 65 yards on eight plays to help IU defeat Purdue 23-16 in the 117th playing of the in-state rivalry.
For the second consecutive year, the Old Oaken Bucket will stay in Bloomington.
“It’s hard to describe a moment like that,” Diamont said. “It’s something you dream about. Getting to score and just kind of having this moment with my teammates to celebrate, it means the world. Especially after the season, it hasn’t been easy for us.”
The win is the Hoosiers’ first Big Ten victory of the season and snapped a six-game losing streak.
IU (4-8, 1-7) moved into a tie with Purdue (3-9, 1-7) in the conference standings, but the head-to-head tiebreaker moved the Hoosiers to 13th place while the Boilermakers finished last for the second consecutive season.
IU Coach Kevin Wilson became the second consecutive coach to win the Old Oaken Bucket twice in four seasons. It’s the first time IU has beaten Purdue two straight years since 1993-94.
“We’re excited that we won the Bucket, we’re excited we beat our rival, we’re excited that our seniors leave the right way,” Wilson said. “A year ago, we put up every passing stat in the school’s history, and by the end of today, I think we got the most running stats. The real stat is the W.”
Although Diamont’s run inevitably proved to be the celebrated, game-winning score, it was mostly the Hoosier defense that kept IU in the game as the offense largely struggled to move the ball throughout the day.
Purdue’s lone touchdown was an 82-yard rushing score by Akeem Hunt in the third quarter that, at the time, put the Boilermakers ahead 13-3. From there, IU outscored Purdue 20-3.
But it could have easily turned out otherwise for IU had it not been for defensive holds near the red zone, a defensive category in which the team has ranked near the bottom in the nation throughout the season.
Turnovers and poor special teams play allowed Purdue to start offensive possessions in IU territory three times, but IU only allowed a pair of field goals on those trips. Two of those drives started within the 22-yard line.
“Earlier in the year, when teams got in the red zone, they kept scoring,” sophomore linebacker TJ Simmons said. “As the year went on, we kept saying, ‘Just because they get in the red zone, it doesn’t mean they’ve got to score. We can get a turnover or force them into a field goal.’”
That was exactly what the Hoosier defense managed to do.
IU had three interceptions as a team by junior cornerback Michael Hunter, freshman linebacker Tegray Scales and freshman safety Chase Dutra, all of which proved to end drives.
And as the final whistle blew, Diamont could open his eyes and rush the field. Players immediately began passing the Bucket around and taking pictures with it in the locker room.
IU’s 2014 season will go down in the record books as a losing year, but for at least one weekend, there was reason to celebrate.
So when Dutra was asked what it meant to beat Purdue, he didn’t hesitate with his answer.
“Everything,” Dutra said. “It’s who owns the state for a whole year.
“We came out here, and we got a win.”