MIAMI —Donavan Hale said he didn’t know how many people he had supporting him at Riccardo Silva Stadium, but he knew it was a lot.
His cousin, Jonathan Crawford, estimated he had at least 12 family members and friends in attendance.
Those who did make the trip from Largo, Florida, about 280 miles from Miami, were treated to a night they won’t soon forget from the two IU football players who attended and played at Largo High School together.
Hale, a redshirt junior wide receiver whose 2017 season was cut short due to injury, played his best game as a Hoosier. Crawford, a senior safety who hasn’t a missed a game in his IU career, scored his first collegiate touchdown. It all came as part of IU’s season-opening 38-28 win Saturday night against Florida International University.
Within the close confines of the box-shaped stadium on the FIU campus, it was almost as if the two men were back in Largo, where Hale was a quarterback throwing touchdown passes to Crawford, then a defensive back and wide receiver.
“It was awesome just knowing that we grew up together,” Crawford said. “That’s my brother. He feels me and I feel him.”
The senior leader of an IU defense facing the loss of so many significant contributors from the 2017 season, Crawford used his experience to take defensive control of Saturday night’s game.
Not only did he force a fumble on the opening drive of the game, he then stepped in front of a pass from FIU graduate quarterback James Morgan, intercepted it and returned it for a touchdown.
“Really, I think it’s from film study,” Crawford said. “All summer I had it on my mind to get a pick-six.”
This all came during the first quarter and while IU was experiencing early-game jitters after an interception by IU sophomore quarterback Peyton Ramsey.
Crawford’s touchdown gave IU a lead it didn’t relinquish for the final 49 minutes of the game. His three solo tackles in the open field displayed his veteran savvy, something this IU defense will need if it is to improve from Saturday’s performance, which featured the Hoosiers allowing 170 rushing yards to FIU and four penalties committed by the IU secondary.
Hale’s story was one of redemption.
IU Coach Tom Allen’s face glowed, not with South Florida humidity, but with emotion, pride and excitement when asked about Hale’s receiving performance
“I’ll tell you what, I’ve challenged that guy,” Allen said. “I believe in him. He played the way I expect him to.”
Hale posted four catches for 60 yards and two touchdowns in the game, and the catches came in all shapes and sizes. From an acrobatic toe-tap catch in the back of the end zone in the first quarter to tie the game 7-7, to a rotating, spinning catch on 4th and Goal to put IU 28-14 up, there was no play too difficult for him to make.
“My job is just to catch the ball,” Hale said. “So I went out there and did it.”
There were plenty of things lacking for IU during the game, on both sides of the ball, from an inability to stop FIU's rushing attack and the Golden Panther offense on late downs, to the continued lack of a deep passing threat by the Hoosier offense.
But if one thing did go right, if one thing stuck to the narrative crafted by not only the football gods, but by those in attendance from Largo, it was the way Hale and Crawford played — the two cousins, who call each other brothers, making history in front of loved ones.
“This is their home,” Allen said. “Gosh, that’s how you script it."
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