No. 15 Indiana men’s soccer defended its recent reinstatement to the United Soccer Coaches top-25 poll in a high-stakes matchup against No. 20 Butler University, earning a 2-1 win through a second-half comeback under the lights of a packed Bud and Jackie Sellick Bowl in Indianapolis.
The Hoosiers’ victory Wednesday extended their winning streak to three matches ahead of the start of Big Ten play. It also ended a winless streak of 11 years when playing against the Bulldogs on the road.
With redshirt senior defender Daniel Munie missing his first match of the season after suffering a knock to the leg against then-No. 9 University of Akron on Sept. 9, Indiana head coach Todd Yeagley was forced to shake up the Hoosiers’ back line.
Instead of sticking to the 3-4-3 formation from their previous two wins, the Hoosiers placed senior Nyk Sessock alongside junior Joey Maher in the center, with senior Brett Bebej and junior Lawson Redmon commanding the flanks.
In preparation for Wednesday’s match, Yeagley said he and the team expected Butler to bring the same attacking press and numbers forward as Akron. The Bulldogs stuck to their game plan, but the Hoosiers didn’t manage it with the same composure.
“It’s always the same game,” junior defender Jansen Miller said. “A lot of Big East teams are fighting hard, and that’s what we expected. We knew we were going to get a top Butler team.”
The Bulldogs created several chances to score in the opening 20 minutes, posting a 7-1 shot advantage in that span, but indecisiveness in the final third kept the match scoreless. Their back line, which remained high up the pitch, couldn’t be exploited by the Hoosiers due to the one-sided possession.
In the 28th minute, Yeagley made a defensive switch that shifted the momentum to close out the first half. Miller made his first appearance for Indiana since transferring from Xavier University, replacing Sessock at center back after he picked up an early yellow card.
As Butler’s press faded from overworking, Indiana thwarted its advances and found more possession for itself. With it came along opportunities on the other end.
The Hoosiers almost stole the opening goal in the 36th minute, but junior forward Nate Ward and senior forward Karsen Henderlong fired back-to-back strikes directly into the outstretched bodies of Butler fifth-year senior goalkeeper Gabriel Gkergji and the back line, respectively.
When the whistle blew to start the second half, Indiana looked to build on its attacking potential. A quick restart from Butler in the opening minute stunned the visitors, though, as senior forward Wilmer Cabrera Jr. tapped home a cross to cap off a 3-on-2 push toward the net.
Yeagley said although the goal came as a surprise, he wasn’t worried. He believed the Bulldogs left too much time for the Hoosiers to scrape out a result.
“We were ready to fight back, I don’t think anybody dropped their head,” Miller said.
Within 10 minutes, the Hoosiers’ positive attitude and inspired change in pace led to an equalizer. Less than a half hour of match time after making his debut in cream and crimson, Miller struck home his first collegiate goal with a powerful header on a Hoosier corner.
“Felt good cause I’ve been close,” Miller said. “We have our runs (on corner kicks) that I knew I needed to get. I beat my defender and kind of blacked out. I knew I’d be able to make something happen when my shirt was called.”
Right before the hour mark, another substitute --- this time a familiar one --- made his own impact for Indiana. Senior forward Ryan Wittenbrink cleverly positioned himself with a dashing effort toward the penalty area and calmly fired a rebound past Gkergji to give Indiana a 2-1 lead.
The strike marked Wittenbrink’s team-leading third goal this season.
The Bulldogs kept the Hoosiers pinned inside their own half following the lead change, but the back line stayed level-headed and alert whenever half-chances arrived. Miller stood out, preventing several shots near the 18-yard box from finding their way to junior goalkeeper JT Harms through courageous blocks and imposing his physical advantage.
“He was ready,” Yeagley said. “He’s a different physical player than we have. His ability to win balls in the air, his presence. He’s got this positive, get-after-it mentality, and it was contagious.”
In the end, the Hoosiers’ depth made all the difference as they first battled back for the lead and later defended it, taking all three points in the in-state rivalry match. Despite not taking the pitch, players like Munie who were sidelined could be seen and heard offering positive reinforcement throughout the night.
“That was a really good game because of the spirit of the group,” Yeagley said. “The guys that come off the bench to help, the guys were cheering for them. They knew it was the next guy’s day. You can grow as a team quickly when there’s a positive outcome.”
Indiana ends its short road trip with its first test in Big Ten play, a matchup against Ohio State at 2 p.m. Sunday in Columbus, Ohio. The Buckeyes have a 4-0-2 record and are coming off a 3-3 draw against Akron and 2-0 victory over Butler.