As Indiana’s football team walked off the field Saturday, music blared from the speakers at Memorial Stadium.
“This is the moment / Tonight is the night, we’ll fight ‘til it’s over / So we put our hands up like the ceiling can’t hold us,” belted musicians Macklemore and Ryan Lewis in the hit song “Can’t Hold Us.”
It wasn’t quite the night, but it was the Hoosiers’ moment to get their first win in six weeks, taking a 20-14 victory over Wisconsin and snapping a Big Ten losing streak that dated back to Nov. 19, 2022.
Seemingly Indiana’s entire roster sang “Indiana, Our Indiana,” in front of an energized Hoosier faithful that erupted once the clock hit zero. Some players hugged family members. Others tossed gear into the stands. Nearly all were grinning from ear to ear.
“It felt really good,” junior punter James Evans said. “I’m happy for the whole team and the coaches. It feels really good to be a winner after four losses.”
Indiana (3-6, 1-5 Big Ten) staved off bowl elimination by topping the Badgers (5-4, 3-3 Big Ten) despite posting only three points and 36 total yards of offense in the second half.
Since their last victory – a 29-27 four-overtime survival against the University of Akron on Sept. 23 – the Hoosiers have fired offensive coordinator Walt Bell for performance, made a change at quarterback, been outscored 160-62 and lost sixth-year senior captain Noah Pierre for the season due to injury.
But none of that adversity mattered Saturday, and Indiana’s postseason eligibility lives to fight for another day.
“It’s great,” sixth-year senior linebacker Aaron Casey said postgame. “Just being able to sing that fight song with the guys in the locker room and having that feeling of just getting the victory, earning it.”
As opposed to last week, when Penn State scored a late touchdown to survive Indiana’s upset bid, Casey and the Hoosiers’ defense rose to the occasion when needed most. While its offense struggled, Indiana held Wisconsin scoreless for the final 25 minutes of game action, forcing two punts, a pair of fumbles and a turnover on downs.
Time and time again, Indiana’s defense had its back against the wall – and when redshirt senior safety Josh Sanguinetti sealed the victory with a fumble recovery on the game’s final play, it put an exclamation point on a season-saving result.
“It’s a higher sense of urgency,” Casey said of the Hoosiers’ defensive effort. “We look at these games as playoff games. We know we have to win out to go to the postseason. So, we've just been putting everything we have to our work and preparation this week to play in a bowl game.”
The Hoosiers have now played eight consecutive quarters of competitive football dating back to their 33-24 loss at No. 10 Penn State on Oct. 28 after three straight losses by at least 17 points.
Junior receiver Donaven McCulley, who made a one-handed grab for Indiana’s second touchdown of the game, noted how tight the Hoosiers’ locker room remained when many wrote them off. Afterwards, that same locker room was “turnt,” freshman safety Jordan Shaw said.
If only for the day, Indiana’s persistence and togetherness paid off, resulting in a victory six weeks in the making.
“I feel like getting this win shows how hard we work,” McCulley said. “All the work we put in, it's just like we never gave up out there. It's just a testament showing our work.”
The remaining schedule gives the Hoosiers every opportunity to find their way into bowl contention. None of the three games left to play – at Illinois, vs. Michigan State and at Purdue – will come against teams with winning records.
Indiana knows this. Even with a disappointing October, there’s belief that a fruitful November may be on the horizon – but for now, the focus is on celebrating a hard-fought victory and going one game at a time, with all eyes turned towards Nov. 11 against Illinois.
“It's earmuffs and blinders every single week,” Allen said. “Come back to work, no matter what happened, good or bad, attack the next day. Easier said than done, no doubt. Definitely hard to do. To see them rewarded for that today is pretty special.”