“Sorry about your Thanksgiving, but we’re going to Arkansas!” The end of Head Coach Bob Bartolomeo’s debrief was drowned out by cheers after the No. 12 University of Indianapolis football team defeated No. 19 Fort Hays State University 38-27 in the first round of the NCAA Division II playoffs. The game was the first ever meeting between the fourth-seed Hounds and the Tigers. Bartolomeo said that it was a great game.
“…It was a roller-coaster ride all the way around,” Bartolomeo said. “We’d jump on them, and you go back to 10 minutes left in the first half and they stormed back on us. And you get into the fourth quarter, hey, it’s just two great teams going at one another. Our offense did a great job of scoring some points and the defense came through big at the end.”
The Hounds opened the scoring in the first quarter with a touchdown from sophomore wide receiver Daveon Bell. After 18 plays in the second quarter, redshirt senior quarterback Jake Purichia ran the ball three yards for another touchdown, giving the team a 14 point lead over the Tigers.
Fort Hays State answered six minutes later with a touchdown. Redshirt freshman kicker Paul Buisman kicked a 35 yard field goal, adding three points to the scoreboard, the last addition the Hounds would see until the fourth quarter. The Tigers scored another touchdown with 19 seconds left in the half, bringing the score to 17-14.
Fort Hays State scored unanswered in the third quarter, taking the lead after a touchdown in the first four minutes. A second touchdown followed minutes later, giving the Tigers a seven point lead.
“It’ll be a tough road game, but we’ve got the guys that can do it.”
UIndy responded in the fourth quarter. Purichia called his own number and rushed the one yard into the endzone, tying the score. Three minutes later, Bell caught a 76 yard pass from Purichia, the longest of the season, and carried it into the endzone, giving the Hounds the lead.
The Tigers kicked a 40 yard field goal, their final score of the game, with just under four minutes left on the clock. The Hounds kept a four point lead, but the win was sealed when senior defensive back Robert Williams pulled off a pick-six with 1:54 left in the game. Williams said that he took a chance on the play.
“I had a feeling it was coming, though. I reacted. I saw the ball thrown, so I ran through it, ran to the endzone,” Williams said. “I’m probably going to get in trouble Monday for soldering the defense because of the penalty, but it was a game changer. I wish I could’ve spiked it, actually, but I’m glad it happened. We got the ‘dub.’”
On the defensive side, senior linebacker Cole Sigmund had a team-leading 10 tackles, with junior linebacker Joe Lambright and redshirt sophomore Connor Steeb each amassing nine. Senior defensive lineman Lucas Rice added two sacks.
Offensive leaders included sophomore running back Al McKeller and freshman running back Toriano Clinton, the top two rushing leaders, gaining 137 and 106 yards respectively. Purichia threw his 55th career touchdown pass, which tied him for second place in program history for passing touchdowns alongside former quarterback Matt Kohn.
The victory means that the team will travel to Arkadelphia, Arkansas this weekend to face No. 4 Ouachita Baptist University on Nov. 24. The first-seed team is coming off an undefeated season in the Great American Conference and a bye-week in the first round of the DII playoffs. According to Purichia, the team is looking forward to Saturday’s game.
“I mean, personnel-wise, I don’t know much about them [Ouachita Baptist]. But I’m excited. I’m sure a lot of the guys are excited,” Purichia said. “We won. We’re going to the next game. Like Coach Bart said, this is the big game because it’s the next one. We’re fortunate to get a ‘W’ here and go there. It’ll be a tough road game but we’ve got the guys that can do it. We’ve got the players [and] the coaches to be able to go on the road and get a tough win.”