IU Coach Kevin Wilson isn’t one to get caught up in the emotions of football.
Win or lose, good or bad, he starts his press conferences the same. Saturday, he deviated from the script when it came to talking about his senior class.
The 2014 season saw Wilson complete his fourth year in Bloomington. The graduating seniors were his first freshman class. They’re Wilson’s players.
So when he began to hail the performances and careers of his seniors, the emotion was clear in Wilson’s eyes and the shakiness of his voice.
Wilson’s seniors ended their careers with the Old Oaken Bucket in their hands. And Saturday, that’s reason to be ?satisfied.
“Proud of the seniors,” Wilson said, pausing with eyes watering. “This is a group of guys that battled hard.”
The 2014 season wasn’t what IU wanted. Another senior class comes and goes without having been to a bowl game.
Wilson’s first senior class finished with a 14-34 overall record. They only won six Big Ten games.
The past season was at times frustratingly disappointing after an unpredictable season-ending injury to junior quarterback Nate Sudfeld set the table for six consecutive losses that tested the Hoosiers.
Wilson routinely praised his players, especially the seniors, for not letting up even after being eliminated from bowl contention and having to once again answer questions about struggling.
Saturday was the Hoosiers’ last chance to change the tone, and the senior class made sure to make their final mark.
Senior receiver Shane Wynn led IU with six catches for 47 yards, but his most important play was a rush.
With IU down by seven and the third quarter winding down, Wynn took a double reverse 41 yards for a touchdown that tied the game at 13-13.
“I was kind of nervous to trust my speed to split them, but at the end of the day, that’s what I do,” Wynn said. “I run. So I just ran and split them. Heck of a block by Nick ?Stoner.”
Stoner himself had a productive day in his first appearance in three games due to a leg injury. He had four catches for 40 yards in his final game.
Wynn wasn’t on the field for IU’s game-winning score in the final seconds of the game due to a rolled ankle that left him limping around after the 23-16 win. But he watched on the sidelines and celebrated as freshman quarterback Zander Diamont took a 1-yard rush into the end zone.
Senior running back D’Angelo Roberts only had five carries but managed to make the most of them.
He had two rushes on IU’s final, game-winning drive for 29 yards. On his second carry, Roberts shook off tacklers and pushed forward to the 1-yard line before finally being taken down with IU in prime position to score.
Roberts, a Bloomington High School North graduate, said winning the Bucket one last time was rewarding as a senior who has experienced the rivalry as a fan in high school and as a player.
“It’s a great feeling,” Roberts said. “It’s my last time on this field playing football, so I just wanted to go out with a good memory. I’m happy my team is happy and we finally got that Bucket two years in a row. I’m happy I’m part of that.”
For the past two seasons, Roberts has been the backup for junior Tevin Coleman, who has been among the nation’s best running backs. Roberts never complained about being second string. He and Coleman called each other brothers.
On Saturday, it was Roberts who set up the Bucket-winning touchdown.
“To have him making a few plays, that was kind of cool,” Wilson said.
Cornerback Michael Hunter has opted to not come back next year for a fifth-year senior season, deciding to instead study occupational therapy.
He said he doesn’t have any second thoughts about leaving.
He’s spent the last three seasons on a defense that has mostly ranked among the nation’s worst, but in his final game it was able to make the stops IU needed the most.
So when he was asked if Saturday’s win was a good enough game to end his career on, Hunter smiled.
“Yes, sir, I think so,” Hunter said before quickly correcting himself.
“More than that, I believe I know so.”