Rutgers pulls off improbable comeback in road triumph over Indiana
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — When Devine Redding rumbled for a 66-yard touchdown run midway through the third quarter to give Indiana a commanding 52-27 stranglehold, he poured gasoline on the fire as a shootout exploded into a blowout.
And at that very moment, the Rutgers football team had burst into flames.
After the Hoosiers opened up the third quarter with 28 straight points, the Scarlet Knights looked ready to just get the beating over with before hopping on a plane back to Piscataway.
But then the unthinkable happened.
Highlighted by a string of improbable big plays with impeccable timing, Rutgers rallied all the way back with 28 unanswered points to shock Indiana on its Homecoming in a wild 55-52 comeback win at Memorial Stadium on Saturday.
Kyle Federico’s 26-yard chip shot as time expired served as the icing on the cake. The senior missed two extra point attempts earlier in the game — the most recent that would have put his team up one point late in the fourth quarter — but head coach Kyle Flood’s confidence in his placekicker never wavered.
“Do your job. Just go out there and do your job,” Flood said of his message to Federico. “… When we needed one more play, (the players on the kicking unit) were able to execute and do it for us.”
Federico, who has fallen victim to the big moment with missed kicks times before on the Banks, erased the memory of his earlier miscues and nailed the one that mattered most.
“I think at the beginning of my career, that’s something that I truly learned — every kick is a new kick,” Federico said. “There’s no point in really worrying about those past kicks because, like it is, you’ve got a game-winner coming your way and you gotta do your job.”
The end result was a triumph that could have very well saved the season for the Knights (3-3, 1-2). The first Big Ten win of the fall brings a jolt of momentum back to Rutgers as it returns home for next weekend’s Oct. 24 battle with No. 1 Ohio State at High Point Solutions Stadium.
But perhaps what sticks out the most about the 25-point comeback — tied for the largest in program history with last year’s 41-38 come-from-behind victory against Maryland in the Nov. 29, 2014, season finale — was how the Knights did it.
As much as Nate Sudfeld ripped apart Rutgers defense for 464 yards and four touchdowns through the air on 32-of-42 passing, the Knights forced the senior gunslinger into critical errors when they were needed most.
Without true freshman Blessuan Austin, who left the game and did not return after taking a knee to the head, redshirt-freshman Isaiah Wharton was forced to grow up quick as the No. 1 corner.
While true freshman Jarius Adams filled in for Austin, Wharton rebounded with a key pass break up to go with his six tackles after Sudfeld picked on him repeatedly on crossing routes over the middle.
But when Sudfeld tried once more on a cross toward the Rutgers sidelines at the 39, Wharton jumped the route and controlled the first pick of his career all the way down to the turf to ignite the Knights’ offensive revival in the fourth quarter.
Later on the ensuing drive, sophomore running back Robert Martin, who ran for a game-high 124 yards and three touchdowns on 17 carries, danced three yards into the end zone to make it a one-possession game with 9:26 left.
Then, on the ensuing Hoosiers possession, Sudfeld heaved an ill-advised jump ball into the secondary and junior free safety Anthony Cioffi came down with Rutgers’ second interception of the day.
“I saw that route coming and I was like, ‘I need to get it,’” Cioffi said. “I feel like we needed that a lot. I feel like we needed a play, no matter who made it. And it’s always good to make the plays and make the momentum totally flip to our side.”
Moments later, senior tailback Paul James ripped off a 40-yard run to tie the game up at 52-52.
Indiana, which racked up 627 total yards on offense, was held to just 25 total yards in the fourth quarter. Rutgers forced a punt on the ensuing drive, leading to the eventual game-winning charge where sophomore quarterback Chris Laviano led the Knights on their longest scoring surge of the game.
Armed with two timeouts, Laviano coolly worked the clock one week after his fourth down spike sealed his team’s fate in a 31-24 loss to then-No. 4 Michigan State.
The Long Islander from Glen Head, New York, finished his night 28-of-42 with 386 yards and three touchdowns to one interception, connecting with senior wide receiver Leonte Carroo for the hat trick.
“I think the whole team (grew up during the win),” Laviano said. “This was the first challenge that we overcame as a team this season, and I’m just really proud of how relentless some of the guys were.”
While Laviano's sentiments might be modest at best, perhaps Julian Pinnix-Odrick's take provided more insight with his reaction.
Even though his teammates could have rolled over and let the Hoosiers pour it on, the junior defensive tackle has been here long enough to understand how much game was left to be played.
And while the circumstances could have led to a disastrous rout that could have let the remainder of the season spiral out of control, Rutgers refused to let any of that happen.
“It’s nothing harder than looking up at that scoreboard and thinking, ‘Man, I’ve failed so many times in the past,’ and, ‘How are we gonna respond?’” Pinnix-Odrick said. “You just have to think back on who are you as a person, and you’ve just gotta look to the left and the right and try to get those guys to come with you and try to help them help you get there also.”
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