As we count down to Indiana’s 2019 opening game against Ball State on August 31, The Daily Hoosier is looking back at the top ten football seasons in the program’s history.
If emotions were the only criteria, the 2007 IU football season would surely vault to the top of this list. To properly tell the story, you have to go back a few years.
Terry Hoeppner was named IU’s 26th head football coach on December 17, 2004. His infectious energy soon took hold, and after a 4-1 start to the 2005 season, it appeared that the program might be on its way to finally turning things around.
Indiana would struggle the rest of the way in 2005 and finished the season 4-7, but the optimism surrounding the program was still high.
The mood soon changed.
Just days after the 2005 season ended, Hoeppner had a brain tumor removed near his right temple.
Back on the sidelines to start the 2006 season, Hep’s squad got off to another strong start. The 2-0 Hoosiers looked primed to keep things rolling with five straight home games coming up on the schedule.
And then it happened again.
Hoeppner had a second operation on Sept. 13, 2006, and IU would go on to lose seemingly winnable home games against Southern Illinois and Connecticut. The team was rattled — to say the least.
To the surprise of many, Hoeppner was back on the Hoosier sidelines just days after that surgery, and although IU came up short against Wisconsin, a reversal of fortunes was forthcoming. Hep was back.
After a rare Big Ten road win over Illinois, and wins over Iowa and Michigan State at home, the Hoosiers appeared to have righted the ship. But ultimately a tumultuous 2006 season wasn’t to be, and IU came up just short of enough wins in 2006 to become bowl eligible.
Hoeppner’s “Play 13” mantra would carry on to 2007. But it would carry on without him.
The IU head coach took a medical leave from the Hoosiers on March 18, 2007, and on June 19, 2007, he was gone.
Although the program was devastated by the news, the show had to go on.
And now the 2007 season was defined. Nothing short of a bowl game would be acceptable.
Under the direction of head coach Bill Lynch, the 2007 season got off to a Hoeppner like start. Six games into the season, IU had 5-1 record including a stunning road win over Iowa. At a time when a winning record was required to become bowl eligible, the Hoosiers needed just two more wins over the last six games to reach their goal.
IU had an explosive offense led by versatile quarterback Kellen Lewis and his favorite target James Hardy.
Lewis would throw for 3,043 yards and 28 touchdowns while rushing for another 736 yards and 9 more scores. Hardy caught 79 passes on the season for 1,125 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Despite the great start, a familiar obstacle loomed. Consecutive losses to Michigan State, Penn State and Wisconsin put the 13th game in doubt.
IU would need two wins in their final three contests to achieve bowl eligibility — and they split their next two games against Ball State and Northwestern.
It would all come down to the Old Oaken Bucket Game, and arch-rival Purdue.
A 24-3 late third quarter lead appeared to have IU on its way, but the Boilermakers rallied and eventually tied the game at 24 with under four minutes to go.
IU would have one final drive to meet the “Play 13” standard set by their late head coach.
On a drive that started on Indiana’s own 24 yard line, Lewis led the Hoosiers into Purdue territory with several big completions.
The drive would ultimately stall out at the Purdue 31 yard line, and an entire season of emotions, hard work and perseverance would come down to one kick.
Austin Starr’s 49 yard game winner sent a capacity crowd onto the field in celebration, and it sent Indiana to the Insight Bowl.
Hoeppner’s family was on the IU sideline during the game and celebrated with the fans and players after the emotional win.
Although his time at IU was relatively brief, Hoeppner’s legacy in Bloomington is everywhere.
He was instrumental in getting the north end zone project approved. “The Walk” before games is a Hoeppner creation as well.
For one unforgettable season, Hoeppner’s memory became a cause.
“The Rock” was another one of Hoeppner’s ideas, and for the 2007 season, the memory of the late Hoosier coach served as the limestone foundation of a vision realized.
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