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Rutgers' comeback attempt falls short, loses to Indiana, 24-17

It started out better than anyone could have expected. A touchdown — in the air, at that — on the first drive of the game. But, when the clock hit triple zeros, it ended the same way it has almost all season for the Rutgers football team — with a loss.

The Scarlet Knights (1-4, 0-2) couldn’t overcome a sloppy first half and fell to the Indiana Hoosiers (4-1, 1-1), 24-17, on Saturday afternoon at HighPoint.com Stadium. 

“First and foremost, hats off to Indiana, played a good game, made more plays in critical situations than we did and won the game,” said head coach Chris Ash after the game.

For Rutgers, it was basically a tale of two halves. 

Despite scoring on its first possession, the Knights went into halftime down 17 with the offense stalling a bit and the defense letting up big play after big play, especially on third down.

“We dug ourselves a hole again and a lot of it had to do with third down. We weren't good on third down on either side of the ball in the first half,” Ash said.

It’s true, they weren’t allowing Indiana to convert on 11 of its 18 third down chances and only doing the same on 4 of their 12 chances.

On the bright side defensively, most of the Hoosiers’ conversions came in the first half, as the Rutgers defense stepped up and held Indiana scoreless in the second half, even coming up with two takeaways in the fourth quarter to give the team a chance. 

But, on 4th and 1 on the Hoosiers’ 34 yard line with less than 2 minutes left in the game, the Knights were called for the offsides, resulting in a free play in which Indiana’s quarterback Peyton Ramsey connected with his receiver for a 25-yard gain, putting the game to rest.

“We just have to focus on not making mistakes. A big thing this year with our problems has been Rutgers beating Rutgers, so it’s important we just cut down on mistakes and everything else will follow,” said senior defensive lineman Jon Bateky.

Offensively, true freshman quarterback Artur Sitkowski took a step in the right direction after getting benched in his previous two games. He went 18-35 for 154 yards with a touchdown and an interception. 

After scoring on its first drive, Rutgers couldn’t find the end zone again in the first half, with its best scoring opportunity coming midway through the second quarter. 

Sitkowski led the march down the field going 5-6 on the drive and looking like the quarterback everyone had envisioned coming into the season. But, on 3rd and goal from the 14-yard line, he threw an interception in the end zone, killing any momentum the Knights might have had. 

“I think today you saw some glimpses of what Art could become and what we have been seeing in practice,” Ash said. “Art's a warrior. He took some shots. He's big, strong kid, and he got up and he kept playing. He made some really good throws in there today, obviously wish he would have had the one interception back, but he made some really critical plays in that game today and he keeps getting better.”

Sitkowski was sacked twice and took some shots all game. But, no matter what, he got up, shook it off and went back to work.

“That’s one thing I pride myself on, I gotta be tough,” he said. “I owe these guys everything, I owe this University everything, I owe this coaching staff everything and most importantly I owe my brothers everything.”

And after the half, Rutgers showed its resilience and played much better on both sides of the ball, even adding a trick play to the mix.

On 1st and 10 on the Hoosiers’ 45-yard line, Sitkowski pitched it to freshman running back Isaih Pacheco who threw the ball to fifth-year senior tight end Jerome Washington for the 39 yard gain. Graduate student running back Jonathan Hilliman finished the drive with a touchdown to make it 24-14 Indiana.

After an interception by junior defensive back Damon Hayes — his second in as many games — gave the Knights the ball back, sophomore kicker Justin Davidovicz drilled the 52.5-yard field goal, the fourth-longest in program history and the longest in stadium history, making it a one possession game.

Then, the offsides happened.

“Real close game, start of Big Ten football, you’re gonna see a lot of games like that,” said senior linebacker Deonte Roberts. “You hope to come out with the win but we just gotta get better come tomorrow, during the week getting ready for the next opponent.”

Rutgers will hope that fourth quarter momentum carries into next week’s game against Illinois, 1 of 3 Big Ten teams the Knights beat last year.

“This team has something special, we haven’t played our best football yet, but best believe when we do we can be really good so I’m really excited for what the future holds,” Sitkowski said.

For updates on the Rutgers football team, follow @TargumSports on Twitter.

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