WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA-- The stage was set.
The stadium was rocking.
The black-clad student section was deafening.
The Purdue Boilermakers had come from ten points down in the fourth quarter to take a late lead.
With former boss Joe Tiller in attendance, Danny Hope’s signature win as the first-year coach of the Boilermakers was only minutes away.
All the home team had to do was keep Notre Dame out of the end zone on fourth down, and the storybook ending would be complete.
Too bad no one showed the script to Jimmy Clausen.
With only 24 seconds left on the clock, Clausen completed a game-winning two-yard touchdown pass to Kyle Rudolph, capping off a thrilling night of football and propelling the visiting Irish to a hard-fought 24-21 victory.
“It’s hard to stay very positive right now ‘cause this one’s gonna hurt,” a dejected Joe Holland said afterwards. “I’ve never played in a game in Ross-Ade that was anything like that. The fans were incredible tonight and they really added something extra to that game.”
The Purdue linebacker finished with a telling sigh. “It was too bad we couldn’t win for them.”
The Boilermakers made a valiant effort, especially in the fourth quarter. After a textbook opening drive staked the home team to a 7-0 lead, Notre Dame dominated most of the action, sticking to a rushing-oriented attack to control the football and take the steam out of the nationally-televised “Blackout” event. However, Purdue fought back in the fourth quarter, using two Joey Elliott touchdown passes to stun the Irish and take a 21-17 lead with 3:41 to play.
All the defense had to do was hold on.
“We knew that if our offense would score, that it was going to be up to us to put the game away, “ said cornerback David Pender. “At the end of the day, though, they made more plays.”
Clausen’s game-winning drive came after the junior quarterback had sat out a good portion of the game with turf toe. There was no mystery who Notre Dame would turn to with the outcome on the line, though. “We had an idea Clausen was coming back in,” Brandon King said afterwards. “He wouldn’t not be in the last drive to try and win the game. He did a good job of leading his team down to get the touchdown.”
Purdue coach Danny Hope was visibly disappointed after the heartbreaking loss, but he remains excited about his team’s prospects during the upcoming conference season.
“Boilermakers don’t quit,” Hope explained. “I’m proud of that. It hurts to lose, it’s disappointing to lose, but I’m not discouraged. We’ve played some really good football teams in some tough situations, come from behind, and had the chance to win in some big ballgames.
One of the reasons for Hope’s optimism is the continued improvement of wide receiver Keith Smith. The senior tallied 11 catches for 136 yards and a touchdown against the Irish, and seems to be getting better every time out.
“[Keith] stepped up big today,” Pender said. “He really motivated us. We could tell the drive that he had, and the fire in his eye—we wanted to come out and play hard and match what he was putting out on the field.”
“Going through the last couple weeks, I’m building confidence and the team’s building confidence,” said Smith. “Even though we’ve come up a little short, we’re gonna swing this around. Conference play starts next week, and that’s when it really counts.”
The Boilermakers open Big Ten play against Northwestern in the annual Homecoming game this weekend. Despite struggling to a 1-3 record, Hope sees better things in store for his ballclub.
“I don’t think we’re all that far off. I don’t think we’ve arrived yet, but we certainly have a lot to look forward to and a reason to suit up on Saturdays believing we have a chance to win. We’d like for our record to be better, but in a lot of ways, our football team is getting better. We’ll bounce back tomorrow, we’ll start practicing hard and get ready to play again, no question about it.”
Bring on the Wildcats.
Week Five prediction: Purdue 34, Northwestern 26
For more Big Ten football coverage from Bleacher Report writer Tim Cary, visit FirstandBigTen.com.