The story of the college football season. The final, fitting story of a lifetime.
Six weeks from now, this game could mean anything in Ohio State's race for the College Football Playoff.
On this night, it meant everything to Tyler Trent.
It had to happen this way; it had to finish with fans storming the field at Ross-Ade Stadium after Purdue's shocking 49-20 upset of No. 2 Ohio State—the Buckeyes' first defeat this season. Amid the madness, in a wheelchair and wrapped from head to toe in Purdue gear, was the 20-year-old Trent—Purdue's emotional armor, who's being treated for bone cancer and left hospice for a night to watch his beloved Boilermakers.
His dream was to witness Purdue beat Ohio State. He got all of it and so much more.
The storybook finish—right down to the house falling on the Wicked Witch of Columbus.
"Unexplainable," Trent told ESPN's Tom Rinaldi with scant minutes remaining in the rout. "That's Boilermaker spirit, right there."
The spirit of the moment. The power and strength of a young man in the fight of a lifetime.
Nearly three weeks ago, Trent—a Purdue student whose bone cancer took parts of his arm and hip (he got titanium replacements) and this year came back for a second time—delivered a message on Twitter: "Though I may not be back in West Lafayette right now, I'm praying and hoping that the Lord will bring me back in the future so I can see Purdue football beat Ohio State on October 20."
Trevor Peters @TrevorPetersTV
Got the following message from @theTylerTrent today. Incredible spirit. Keep fighting buddy! “Though I may not be back in West Lafayette right now, I’m praying and hoping that the Lord will bring me back in the future, so I can see Purdue football beat Ohio State on Oct. 20.” https://t.co/bKJlSFKN8v
It had to happen this way. A team that struggled early and lost its first three games of the season adopted Trent as its honorary captain and let it all hang out over the last month.
No more conservative play. No more playing to not lose.
Four wins later, Purdue is back in the Big Ten race, and Ohio State—and coach Urban Meyer, who escaped mishandling domestic abuse allegations brought against one of his former assistants this offseason with his job intact—is searching for answers again. Purdue coach Jeff Brohm changed quarterbacks for good in Week 3, and everything has changed since.
Boilermakers quarterback David Blough has been the hottest player in the Big Ten, and Purdue has averaged 41.8 points over the four-game winning streak. The average margin of victory in those four victories: 24.8 points.
"We decided we had to be aggressive," Brohm said earlier this week. "We decided it was time to play to win."
Along the way, Purdue got extra motivation from Trent, who went through chemotherapy while attending classes last year as a freshman. More than a year later, on an unusually chilly and windy mid-October night, Purdue fans changed their pregame ritual just for Trent.
Every game before kickoff, Purdue fans chant "IU sucks" in reference to Purdue rival Indiana. Saturday night before the biggest contest of the season, fans chanted "cancer sucks."
Then they watched their team roll the Buckeyes behind a quarterback who began the year on the bench and a freshman wide receiver (Rondale Moore) who has become the Big Ten's most dangerous player.
It had to happen this way. Ohio State, which has owned the conference under Meyer, hadn't been challenged this season until this night. Not by Meyer's three-game suspension, not by offensive coordinator Ryan Day's subbing for Meyer, not by a near-double-digit deficit to TCU nor a Penn State whiteout.
Then the magical combination of Purdue and Trent galvanized a team, a town and a 57,000-seat stadium that turned into a house of horrors for Ohio State. The Buckeyes couldn't run the ball, couldn't cover in the secondary and played an undisciplined game—twice getting personal fouls that extended Purdue drives, which eventually led to touchdowns.
Everything Purdue tried worked. Everything that could go wrong for Ohio State did.
"I knew we had a chance," Trent told Rinaldi. "But I didn't think it was going to be like this."
It had to happen this way.
Storybook finishes are made of the unthinkable and the inconceivable, magical moments that blossom into the unexplainable and change lives forever.
Especially those in the fight of a lifetime.