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Seniors pave the way for IU football in home win against Rutgers


Freshman running back Morgan Ellison runs the ball in the first half against Rutgers on Saturday afternoon at Memorial Stadium. Ellison scored two touchdowns in IU's 41-0 win. Bobby Goddin Buy Photos

Rashard Fant didn't cry after IU's 41-0 victory against Rutgers on Saturday afternoon.

The senior cornerback said it hadn't hit him yet that he'd played his final game in Memorial Stadium but that it would soon.

Fant has gone through the ups and downs of the IU program over the past five seasons. From being a part of some of the worst defenses in college football, to earning four straight Old Oaken Bucket wins against Purdue. 

"It's bittersweet, kind of a sad moment," Fant said. "Some of the guys cried in there. It was great times, a lot of great moments, great opportunity. Can't believe I'm already old and about to be gone."

Before Fant can leave Bloomington, though, IU (5-6 overall, 2-6 in the Big Ten) used the tone he set early in the game to score a lopsided win. 

In what was IU's first Big Ten shutout win since 1993, the scoring barrage started thanks to Fant.

Less than four minutes into the game, a swirling wind caused Rutgers (4-7 overall, 3-5 in the Big Ten) to fumble a punt after IU's offense stalled near midfield. A crowd of Hoosiers waited to pounce on the football, and it was Fant who reacted first.

"That was really big," Fant said. "I think that was a big turning point in the game and really got us started. The ball falls in different ways sometimes. Thankfully this time it fell our way."

The recovery placed IU only six yards away from the end zone. Freshman running back Morgan Ellison bounced off a couple Rutgers defenders on the next play as he ran into the end zone to put IU on the board.

"It's about sending the seniors out with a bang," Ellison said. "Do whatever I can to help the team and the seniors have a great last game at The Rock."

It became a three-possession game by the end of the first quarter thanks to a trio of offensive seniors. Quarterback Richard Lagow found tight end Ian Thomas for a 57-yard touchdown pass, while kicker Griffin Oakes continued his stellar season with his first of two short field goals on the day.

"I just want to say how proud I am of our seniors," IU Coach Tom Allen said. "They've sacrificed so much. They believed, when they came here, to help us re-establish some things and change the culutre, change the expectations."

Lagow posted 236 yards passing with two touchdowns in the win, all of which came in rainy and windy conditions.

"It's something you try not to think about," Lagow said. "Luckily it rained a few times during the week at practice, so we were able to prepare for it that way."

While the IU offense added another Oakes field goal before halftime, the defense continued to pester Rutgers junior quarterback Giovanni Rescigno and render Rutgers' top-40 in the country rushing attack ineffective.

Rutgers' five rushers combined for less than 90 yards on the ground, and Rescigno, along with freshman quarterback Johnathan Lewis, managed just over 100 yards through the air.

"Being a senior, playing all four years, just leaving everything I got in Memorial Stadium," senior defensive end Greg Gooch said. 

The commanding defensive performance was IU's second shutout of the season — the most in a season for the Hoosiers since 1993.

"That's a bonus," Gooch said. "It was just trusting the process."

Momentum on both sides of the ball continued for IU into the second half, despite an interception from Lagow. Rutgers' first offensive play after the interception was a fumble by Rescigno — one that was forced by Gooch and recovered by another senior, safety Tony Fields.

That play turned into seven more points for IU when Lagow hit junior wide receiver Luke Timian for a 27-yard score.

IU's lead was 34-0 when a one-hour, 47-minute lightning delay brought the game to a halt late in the third quarter.

Allen said the Hoosiers used the delay to rest, eat some snacks and watch college football.

"I don't think I've ever had one like that before," Allen said. "Went up and saw my family up in my office, which I don't usually get to do during the game. It was just a very unique environment that we had today."

As a result of the win, next week IU will play Purdue in the Old Oaken Bucket game with the Hoosiers' bowl eligibility on the line for a third straight season. But for the first time in that stretch, the game will be a winner-take-all showdown.

Thanks to a 24-15 upset win at Iowa on Saturday, the Boilermakers will also enter next week's clash with a 5-6 record.

It means the winning team is guaranteed a bowl game, while the loser is likely on the outside of the postseason picture.

"You can understand what's at stake," Allen said. "So I don't think I have to make a big deal about that. They understand how huge it is. But at the same time, it's Purdue. Nothing else needs to be said."

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