Bloomington, Ind. — Rutgers absorbed Indiana’s body blows for three quarters.
The Scarlet Knights finished it off with a flurry of scoring punches.
They erased a 25-point deficit by converting three fourth-quarter turnovers into touchdowns and finally delivered the knockout with a 26-yard field goal from Kyle Federico as time expired for a 55-52 victory.
“We’re relentless, we’ll never give up and we have a lot of fight in this team,” quarterback Chris Laviano said.
Even when things are at their bleakest.
For the second time in 11 months, Rutgers (4-3, 1-2 Big Ten) rallied from 25 points down. They matched a school record that was set during a 41-38 victory at Maryland last November.
But this comeback seemed even more improbable after Indiana went 66 yards for a touchdown to make it a 52-27 lead with 5:25 left in the third quarter.
Somehow, Rutgers’ defense buckled down after allowing four straight touchdowns to start the second half, and the Hoosiers helped with three big mistakes that allowed the Scarlet Knights to pick themselves up off the mat.
Kemoko Turay scooped up a botched snap on a rare Indiana punt and returned it 26 yards for a touchdown to make it 52-39.
Robert Martin converted Nate Sudfeld’s first interception into a 3-yard TD run that made it 52-46. Paul James scored on a 40-yard TD run after Sudfeld’s second interception to tie the score at 52 with 6:29 left. The extra point was blocked.
Laviano closed it out by leading Rutgers on a final 59-yard drive to set up Federico for the winning kick and the knockout.
“There’s no point in thinking about the last one when you’ve got one right in front of you that you’ve got to make,” said Federico, who had two extra points blocked.
The final numbers resembled something out of a video game.
Indiana and Rutgers combined for 1,223 yards in offense, 15 touchdowns and 43 plays of 10 or more yards. The 107 combined points were No. 2 all-time at Memorial Stadium.
Laviano was 28 of 42 for a career-high 386 yards with three touchdowns and an interception. Leonte Carroo caught seven passes for a career-high 157 yards and three scores before leaving in the second half with an injured right foot or leg. His replacement Carlton Agudosi caught three passes for 72 yards.
Martin ran 17 times for a career best 124 yards and a career high three TDs.
Indiana produced big numbers, too.
Sudfeld convinced coach Kevin Wilson he could play after sitting out last week with an injured left ankle and finished 32 of 42 for 464 yards, the second highest total in school history, and four TDs. He also ran for a touchdown and moved into a tie for second on the school’s career list for touchdown passes (45).
Redding, who had 99 yards rushing, and Mike Majette, who had 83, each posted career bests, and three Indiana receivers topped the 100-yard mark Mitchell Paige (126), Ricky Jones (119) and Simmie Cobbs Jr. (107).
Yet on a day Indiana (4-2, 0-3) was in prime position to move within one win of becoming bowl eligible, they couldn’t close it out.
“We kind of let our guard down in the fourth quarter,” Sudfeld said after the Hoosiers’ third straight loss. “We can finish games a lot better. We’ve just got to bring it all together and lock arms and really ride the season out.”
They tried valiantly Saturday.
After building a 17-7 lead early in the second quarter, then allowing Rutgers to retake the lead 27-24 in the final minute of the first half, Indiana scored four straight touchdowns to take the seemingly safe lead.
But Rutgers refused to go down and the Hoosiers early sideline celebration proved costly.
“It’s adjustments, it’s guys making plays,” Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. “I think it’s just a matter of continuing to compete and it’s not easy to do. It takes tough-minded people, and I think we have that.”