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November 26, 2011

Purdue gets Bucket, bowl berth

BLOOMINGTON - Carson Wiggs puckered up for a kiss.

Joe Holland went the hug route.

Dennis Kelly used his mammoth mitts to get a secure hold and then draped a chain around his neck.

Tommie Thomas was using his water bottle as an impromptu champagne-style celebration, squirting it in the air to rain on his teammates.

The Bucket is back in the Boilermakers' possession.

And that's not even the best part.

Purdue's 33-25 victory over Indiana in Memorial Stadium meant victory No. 6 on the season. And maybe that didn't give the Boilermakers a winning season - they're .500 right now - but it's good enough for a bowl berth, the first since 2007.

That combination - beating the hated Hoosiers, becoming bowl eligible - was almost overwhelming for Purdue players.

"We've had some great wins this season, but nothing is quite as sweet as beating IU in Bloomington to get the Bucket back from last year and to be bowl eligible. It's amazing," said Holland, who had nine tackles, two for a loss. "It feels great."

Fellow senior Albert Evans was the one who charged over to open the case with the Bucket - Holland joked Evans got in a three-point stance before rushing to receive it and opened it like a present on Christmas Day.

Evans, rarely at a loss for words, called the victory the "highest moment" of his Purdue career.

But he knows it's about more than just this team, this moment. He knows there may have been larger things at stake than just the Bucket or just a bowl.

There was a sense that players were playing to keep the coaching staff intact, too.

"That's also a big part of it," he said. "Guys can relax. You don't really know what will happen with the coaches, but you know you did kind of a part to help those type of things out. To be able to get to a bowl and get us back on the right track. We've beaten teams, like Ohio State, years past, we've beaten good teams, but we've never really put it all together, so to be able to put it all together is good for our program."

Receiver Antavian Edison echoed those sentiments.

"We love our coaches," he said. "We've got a bunch of good coaches who have a very good knowledge of the game. I love these guys, and I love my team. I want nothing to change.

"All we want to do is make sure we win it for (Coach Danny Hope)."

But there was some doubt early that Purdue (6-6, 4-4) would come through against the lowly Hoosiers (1-11, 0-8).

Indiana jumped on the scoreboard first and led 17-10 midway through the second quarter.

And then the Boilermakers surged.

Raheem Mostert's 81-yard kickoff return set up Ralph Bolden's eight-yard touchdown run, a score that started a string of 23 unanswered points.

Edison's five-yard touchdown run out of the Wildcat formation with 11:04 left in the game, and Carson Wiggs' ensuing extra point made it 33-17.

But even then Purdue couldn't relax.

Indiana scored a touchdown and completed a two-point conversion to pull within 33-25 with 8:22 left.

The Hoosiers forced a punt and got the ball back with 5:26 to play. On first-and-10 from their own 35-yard line, quarterback Tre Roberson heaved a pass downfield for Nick Stoner. Cornerback Josh Johnson leaped for the ball, too.

"As soon as I was getting ready for it, he pushed me," Johnson said. "I settled back, and we both went up and we had it, and I took it from him. At first, we both had it when we were both in the air. When we were coming down, I snatched it from him. I feel like I wanted it more than he did.

"They can throw it (at) me. I can make a big play. At the end of the day, I had to come down with it and get us the victory."

Because the play involved simultaneous possession in the field of play, it wasn't reviewable, officials said. So Johnson's interception stood, and Purdue ran out the rest of the clock behind freshman Akeem Hunt, who had a team-high 100 yards in relief of injured Bolden.

"That was an unbelievable play," Holland said. "You talk about really needing a play defensively. We hadn't forced a turnover all day. He really stepped up at a time where as a defense we really needed a big play. He was pushed off and he still was able to come down and fight for the ball. Coach (Lou) Anarumo does a great job with those guys, teaching them as long as they're still up, you fight for that ball. Josh executed that really, really well and made probably the play of the game for us."

Four minutes later, Purdue was swarming the Bucket - and Hope was in the middle of it.

When the seniors were snapping pictures on the field and pulling out the chains, Hope was in the middle of the huddle, offering up hugs and excited congratulations.

When he finally walked off the field, smile wide and pumping his first, a yell bellowed from the stands above.

"Hey, Danny Hope!" the man said. "Way to get it done!"

Not that Hope wanted to talk about what this could mean for him afterward.

"I'm not going to ruin this great victory and this great evening talking about the pressures that come with this profession," Hope said. "We can do that tomorrow or the next couple days. But we're going to talk about winning, getting the Bucket back and qualifying for postseason play and having a successful season and a great job that our players and the team did. There's always pressure to win, obviously.

"I'm really proud of our football team and the way they stuck together. It's never easy. We got a lot done today. There was a lot on the line today. Sometimes that makes it even tougher."




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