2009 Purdue Boilermakers: One Play Away

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2009 Purdue Boilermakers: One Play Away
(Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images)

WEST LAFAYETTE, INDIANA-- Purdue quarterback Joey Elliott and some of his senior classmates helped create a motto for this year’s Boilermaker football team: “Opportunity Now for Everyone.”  The acronym ONE has been printed on t-shirts, posters, and even serves as the logo for the program’s official Twitter account.

With the season’s first month out of the way, though, ONE has taken on a slightly more frustrating meaning in West Lafayette.

That’s because Coach Danny Hope’s 1-3 squad seems to constantly be ONE play away from winning close football games.  This disturbing trend was on full display Saturday when Purdue gave up a late fourth-quarter lead and dropped a 24-21 heartbreaker to Notre Dame.  The Irish converted a big third-and-14 to keep their final drive alive, and finally punched the ball in the end zone with a fourth-down touchdown pass in the last minute. 

“We had them right where we wanted them,” lamented senior cornerback David Pender, “but at the end of the day, they made more plays.  It’s real tough with this happening three weeks in a row: it came down to the last drive, and us not coming out on top is really difficult.”

Purdue’s three-game losing streak began in Oregon, when the Boilermakers rallied from a 38-30 deficit with a late touchdown, but couldn’t pull off the two-point conversion to tie.  Boilermaker fans came away from the Old Gold and Black’s first loss of 2009 relatively encouraged, as Autzen Stadium is considered one of the country’s toughest venues and Purdue put up a good showing in hostile territory before falling short.

The following week against Northern Illinois, things took a drastic turn for the worse.  Purdue fell behind 28-7 to their visitors from the Mid-American Conference, allowing rushing yards by the boatload and quickly losing the goodwill they had earned from their fan base in weeks one and two. 

Although the Boilermakers rallied to get within seven points in the final quarter, the Huskies used a fake punt to burn valuable time and keep the Boilers at bay, escaping Ross-Ade Stadium with a 28-21 upset win.

Now Notre Dame. 

For the third straight game, Purdue had a golden opportunity to post a win and once again, couldn’t close the deal.  “We’re very disappointed,” Hope said after his squad’s most recent defeat.  “We’ve lost three games and all three of those games came down to the last play of the game.”

“You just saw it: one play away,” said Brandon King.  “It’s not a great feeling: we were right there.  It was one play they made and we didn’t.  Hopefully we won’t be in that situation in the future, but if we are, hopefully we can come up with that play, and we will.”

The senior’s optimistic outlook (which was echoed by his teammates Saturday night) should give Boilermaker fans hope (pardon the pun), but the proof is in how Purdue responds this weekend when Northwestern comes to town.  After the Boilermakers came so close to a statement win in Oregon, they were flatter than a pancake the next time out.  Will Purdue learn their lesson as conference play rolls around?

King thinks so.  “You’ve got to move on from it, knowing we could have made [that one play].  It was inches away, if Dwight [McLean] could have just got a better hand on the ball or whatever and jarred it out, we win the game.  We go into Big Ten play knowing that we’re a good team.”

A good team that’s still one play away from a defining victory.

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