Pylon University enjoyed the Egg and Iron Bowls just as much as the next CFB fan but there was other football played on Saturday. For some it was their last collegiate and competitive game and no one on the field wanted their career to be over. The FCS playoffs don’t feature big names or big programs but great plays don’t need a pedigree – they just need to be perfectly executed.
In the wake of a 14-point loss to Western Illinois two weekends ago in their regular season finale, Indiana State was left to question their playoff future. The next day, the Sycamores heard their name called as one of the 13 at-large teams in the 24-team NCAA FCS playoff bracket. Their selection led many to question whether the 7-5 team, with a 4-4 Missouri Valley Conference record, even belonged in the playoffs. The young men from Terre Haute erased any doubts with a 36-16 road win over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels on Saturday, thanks in large part to senior leadership.
After falling behind 16-0, Indiana State ripped off 36 unanswered points. The Sycamores took the lead for good on this 57-yard touchdown pass from senior quarterback Mike Perish to classmate Kyani Harris midway through the third quarter. Following a QB scramble, ISU faced 1st and 10 at their own 43-yard line. Shown below, Perish is in the shotgun with 10 personnel on the field. Harris is the middle wide receiver in the trips formation to the left of the QB:
Eastern Kentucky counters with their base 4-3 defense using Cover 3 in the secondary. They will rush five on this play, sending two defenders on the blitz. Outside linebacker Trey Thomas (#24) blitzes from the edge while linebacker Jeffrey Canady (#53) blitzes through the B gap. Left defensive end Daryl Taylor (#98) drops into underneath zone coverage:
As the play begins, the linebackers attack the pocket:
Senior running back Buck Logan cuts down Thomas at the knees to buy his quarterback some time:
However, Canady comes unblocked. Perish hangs in the pocket until the last moment knowing he will take a shot after the throw:
On the outside, Harris runs a post route and finds the open seam between the two deep defenders. Cornerback Theron Norman (#29) is responsible for the deep outside while safety Brandon Stanley (#34) is covering the deep middle. The WR splits the two defenders and Perish hits him in stride. Reception secured, Harris slips two potential tackles:
Fifty-seven yards later the Sycamores tie the game, with the PAT pending to take their first lead:
Indiana State would not relinquish their lead, pouring on 14 more points en route to their 36-16 victory, the school’s first NCAA playoff win in 31 years. Perish’s big pitch-and-catch to Harris exemplifies the importance of experience in a big game. From Logan picking up the blitz, to the QB hanging in the pocket an extra second, to the receiver finding the weak spot in the Cover 3 and breaking a few tackles, the Sycamores put together a day that silenced any criticism over their selection for the playoffs. The ISU seniors, and the underclassmen who follow them, face another stiff test this Saturday as Indiana State travels to Tennessee to take on #8 seed Chattanooga Mocs in the Round of 16.
All video and images courtesy ESPN3/WatchESPN.
Follow Mark on Twitter @MarkSchofield.