Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Boilers get miracle win over Badgers

Staring down a 21-0 deficit midway through the third quarter, a stunned Purdue crowd sat in silence at Ross-Aide stadium.

Polite applause greeted a Dan Dierking touchdown reception that led to a 21-7 deficit. Frustrated groans greeted Justin Siller's fourth interception of the game.

When it was all said and done, the final whistle sounded and somehow, some way the Purdue Boilermakers emerged victorious, eking out an ugly 22-21 win over visiting Wisconsin.

The Boilermakers were their own worst enemy, catching an unprecedented case of turnoveritis.

"That's the clinical term for when you keep giving the ball back to the other team," a nervous, visibly sweating Coach Matt Adams said, wiping his brow with his left hand. "I don't know what the (expletive) that was out there, but it wasn't Purdue football."

The madness started after a strong defensive stand to open the game. Freshman wide receiver Luke Campbell fumbled a punt inside the ten-yard line, giving the Badgers prime field position. Wisconsin converted a fourth and goal situation after quarterback Curt Phillips ran into the end zone on a quarterback scramble.

Trailing 7-0, Purdue came out running, handing the ball to Dan Dierking on four consecutive plays. A first down and 17 yards later, Justin Siller rolled left on a play-action pass.

Wisconsin intercepted it.

Again, the Purdue defense held. Again, Siller threw it to the wrong team. Wisconsin made this one count. Facing third and 14, Phillips found wide received David Gilreath for a 63-yard score.

"He just split the deep cover guys," Adams said. It wasn't looking too good after that.

The long touchdown gave the Badgers a 14-0 lead at the half.

Siller threw another interception to open the second half. The play set up a nine-yard touchdown pass to P.J. Hill off a screen play. Just like that, Wisconsin, a heavy underdog, took a 21-0 lead.

"Justin had a terrible game, just a terrible game," Adams admitted. "I swear to God, I've got to keep Joey Elliott away from him during film sessions. It was a big hill to climb, those six turnovers."

The Boilermakers surged back midway through the third quarter, when Siller found Dierking for a seven-yard score. After the defense stopped Wisconsin on its next series, Purdue finally caught a break with a big play. Working out of the two tight-end set, Siller faked a handoff to Dierking and found tight end Arsenio Curry wide open to the left. The speedy tight end sprinted ten yards, broke a tackle, and took it all the way for a 66-yard touchdown.

"That was a huge momentum shift, finding Arsenio like that," Siller said. "A lot of this game was a nightmare. But just like that, we were back in it."

In fact, the Boilermakers trailed by just a touchdown. The defense stopped Wisconsin yet again. Then Purdue stopped itself...again...after Siller's fourth interception.

"I started to think I was invincible and got careless. You can't do that when you're down," Siller said apologetically.

Again, Purdue's defense held, with Mike Neal sacking Phillips on a third-and-five play that forced a punt.

"They tried to run this play-action stuff," Neal explained. "They'd been doing it all game. No one bit that time. Let's feast!"

With more than two minutes left, Siller methodically drove the Boilermakers down the field. He hit Kellner for a 15-yard gain, Dierking for a 13-yard gain. Then he found tight end Kyle Adams for a 33-yard connection. Adams fumbled the ball on the two-yard line, with just under two minutes left. It was Purdue's sixth turnover of the game.

"I thought to myself, 'you've got to be kidding me.' To quote that lady from The Rock, what kind of (expletive)-upped tour is this?" Adams asked, confounded.

P.J. Hill ran left for a two-yard gain on first down. Purdue let the clock run. On second down, Hill ran right for a one-yard gain. Purdue used its first timeout. On third and seven, Neal made another huge play, sacking Phillips just inside the one-yard line. Purdue called another timeout with 1:37 remaining in the game.

"Just a great play by Mike. He's the defensive MVP of the game," Adams said.

That's when the miracle occurred.

Wisconsin was forced to punt in the shadow of its own endzone. Freshman linebacker Aaron Randle exploded through the line and blocked it. The Badgers recovered the ball for a safety. The crowd exploded and just like that, the score was 21-16. The Boilers were set to get the ball back.

The ensuing free kick went out of bounds, setting Purdue up in great field position. With only a single timeout remaining, Siller ran the two-minute offense to near-perfection. Three throws picked up three first downs. Adams managed to get out of bounds after a seven-yard throw. The drive threatened to stall twice, but Siller found Dierking for a key fourth-down conversion. Four plays later, he found Anthony Kellner for another fourth-down conversion.

With just 12 seconds left, Siller and Kellner hooked up again for a six-yard score. The Boilermakers led 22-21. The two-point conversion failed, but that didn't matter to Coach Adams.

"You have to go for two in that situation. With the way our defense played in that second half, I was confident they wouldn't get in field goal range in 12 seconds. I have at least that much confidence in our guys out there."

Notes

Siller finished 28-37 for 346 yards, three touchdowns, and four interceptions...Senior QB Joey Elliott was three-for-three after Siller was knocked out of the game for a series...Kyle Adams caught eight passes for 88 yards...Dierking had eight receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown; he did not register a single carry after the first drive...Kellner had six catches for 97 yards and a touchdown...Curry finished with four receptions for 91 yards and a score...Kyle Jones led Purdue with eight tackles, two of them for losses...Kevin Green had seven tackles, a tackle for loss, and an interception...Mike Neal had four tackles and two sacks...the Boilers finished with -7 rushing yards due to big losses on sacks.

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