Photo Credit - IU Archives

IU Football Countdown: The Top 10 Seasons of All-Time — No. 2

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.

The 1966 Indiana football team gave you no indication that something special was coming.

For the 1967 Hoosiers, that was often the case within games as well.

Back in ’66, IU didn’t win a game after September, lost 51-6 against Purdue and finished the season 1-8-1.

There was more talk about head coach John Pont’s 3-16-1 record after two seasons than any notion of a breakout 1967 campaign.

But Pont knew something that many did not when it came to his 1967 Hoosiers — the young guns were coming.

Harry Gonso, John Isenbarger and Jade Butcher were only sophomores, but they provided a major boost to the talent level at IU.  Each was a high profile recruit that Pont convinced to come to Bloomington.  Each had much more flashy options, including Notre Dame and Michigan for Isenbarger.

The trio formed the nucleus of Pont’s first full recruiting class at IU.  Under the NCAA rules they were all unable to play as freshmen.

Pont knew that he would have better talent in 1967, but he could have never imagined where these young guns would lead him.

The story of the 1967 season as we know it was in large part written during fall camp.

The Hoosiers entered the season in a situation similar to 2019 — with a down-to-the-wire quarterback competition.  Gonso and Isenbarger battled it out until the final week.

Pont’s decision to start Gonso at quarterback and move Isenbarger to tailback would prove to be one of the best roster moves in IU football history.

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Harry Gonso won a fall camp QB competition. Photo Credit – IU Archives

The Hoosier head coach wasn’t finished tinkering with his roster.  Pont moved team captain and future Miami Dolphin Doug Crusan from the offensive line to the other side of the ball to reinforce the Hoosier defense up front.

With the roster set, Pont’s Hoosiers embarked on an unforgettable ride, with a final destination that few could have imagined.

Were they good?  Oh yes.  Were they lucky?  Oh yes.

Eight of Indiana’s nine wins came by an average margin of victory of five points.  The Hoosiers often trailed late and had to rally.  But whether leading or trailing, things were always interesting in 1967.

Indiana trailed 10-0 at halftime in their season and home opener against Kentucky before Gonso threw two second half touchdown passes to give the Hoosiers a 12-10 win.  One of the passes was tipped into the arms of end Al Gage.

In week two, against a better than normal Kansas squad in Bloomington, a late field goal by the back-up kicker was necessary to edge out an 18-15 victory.  That margin only stood up because the Jayhawks missed a field goal of their own at the end of the game.

The Hoosiers opened Big Ten play in week three at Illinois.  Indiana led 13-7 late in the fourth quarter but the Illini drove the ball down to the IU 15 with four minutes remaining.  Linebacker Brown Marks forced a fumble to save the Indiana win.

Back home in week four against Iowa, the 1967 season went from intriguing to captivating, and the events that unfolded on the field even more unbelievable.

Leading 14-10 late in the game, Isenbarger, who was also a talented punter, decided on his own to run the ball rather than punt on fourth down.  He didn’t make it, and Iowa quickly responded, taking a 17-14 lead late in the fourth quarter.

Fellow sophomores Gonso and Butcher had the answer however, connecting on a touchdown pass with just 53 seconds remaining to give IU the 21-17 win.

The improbable Hoosiers were now 4-0, and their reward?  A trip to Ann Arbor to face Michigan.

Indiana led early against the Wolverines 20-0.  And then incredibly, the near exact same Isenbarger failed fake punt scenario played out once again, costing Indiana the lead late in the game and forcing IU to drive 85 yards in the final two minutes to pull out the 27-20 victory.

If you have ever heard the expression “Punt John Punt!” in the context of Indiana football but didn’t know the story, well, it should be clear now.

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John Isenbarger liked to improvise as a punter. Photo credit – IU Archives

The cardiac Hoosiers were now 5-0 and No. 10 in the country.  Folks were starting to believe in the unbelievable.

A final nonconference game at Arizona would provide some relief from the weekly gut wrenching drama, if only for a week.  IU moved to 6-0 with a 42-7 trouncing of the Wildcats in Tucson.

Back home and now No. 7 nationally, IU reverted back to form.  A winless Wisconsin squad marched down to the IU 10 yard line with a chance to take the lead in the waning seconds before a fourth down pass sailed out of reach and preserved the perfect now 7-0 season.

The following week found the Hoosiers trailing again in the fourth quarter, this time at East Lansing against Michigan State.  Yet again, IU rallied, scoring late in the fourth quarter to edge out a 14-13 win and move to a beyond improbable 8-0.

The Hoosiers moved up to No. 5 in the country and even garnered a couple votes for the No. 1 spot.

At some point, the water had to find its level in this surreal run of wins, and that happened in dramatic fashion at Minnnesota.  The Gophers handled IU 33-7, setting up even more drama.

It would be No. 3 and defending Rose Bowl champion Purdue standing in the way of a first ever trip to the Rose Bowl for IU.

With more than 52,000 looking on at Memorial Stadium, Indiana ran out to a 19-7 lead.  Senior Terry Cole was the big story with 155 yards rushing.  But by now you know it wasn’t going to be that easy.

Purdue would cut the lead to 19-14, and the Boilermakers had the ball at the IU four yard line with six minutes remaining in the game.  That’s when Ken Kaczmarek forced a fumble that safety Mike Baughman recovered at the one yard line.

The Hoosiers would hang on from there to secure a share of the Big Ten title and their first ever trip to Pasadena.

Indiana hung close with Southern California on the New Year’s Day 1968 Rose Bowl.  The margin was just 7-3 at halftime, but there would be no late theatrics this time. Two OJ Simpson touchdown runs would prove to be the difference as the Trojans won 14-3.

As the calendar turned to 1968, it wasn’t Indiana’s day, but 1967 was without a doubt Indiana’s year.

Credit – IU Archives

The Daily Hoosier acknowledges the book Glory of Old IU and the Sports Illustrated article “Punt John Punt” in the development of this story.

See also:

No. 10 — 2007

No. 9 — 1991

No. 8 — 1942

No. 7 — 1979

No. 6 — 1905

No. 5 — 1988

No. 4 — 1987

No. 3 — 1910

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