Tom Allen made the do-or-die decision midway through his team's final possession. At that point, the Indiana coach's determination to go for two in overtime against the No. 8 team in the country had actually been years in the making.
"One play to win it," Allen said. "We've been close, and I'm sick and tired of being close."
When quarterback Michael Penix Jr. stretched as far as he could to touch the pylon on a two-point conversion in overtime, Indiana not only pulled off the biggest win of the day by knocking off Penn State 36-35 in overtime, it washed away years of frustration.
Allen had been 6-9 in games decided by a touchdown or less since taking over as interim coach in the last game of the 2016 season. And despite coming off their best season in 27 years, the Hoosiers ended 2019 with a bitter 23-22 loss to Tennessee in the Gator Bowl. In that game, Indiana became the first team in 472 tries last season to lose a game when up by two scores with less than 5 minutes to play, according to ESPN Stats & Info.
"I kept coming back to the bowl game," Allen said Saturday after Indiana's first win over a top 10 team since 1987. "We've got to find a way to not let this happen again. That can just be crippling to you. When you think about all the things that happened and all the plays that had to be made, it was amazing."
The game may have turned when Penn State tailback Devyn Ford scored to make it 28-20 with 1:42 left. Indiana conceded the 14-yard run in order to get the ball back.
"We have a signal to our defense to let the opposing team score, so we made that call," Allen said. "I was surprised. I was hoping he wouldn't go down at the 1-yard line, because if he did, our chances of winning were pretty much eliminated."
Ford seemed to realize his mistake, slowing down as he crossed the goal line.
"We could have handled it better. I could have handled it better," said Penn State coach James Franklin. "… What we wanted to do is get as much as you can and get down [before the goal line]."
That score put the ball back in the hands of Penix, a redshirt sophomore from Tampa who wasn't great in his first game back from a season-ending injury last November. But Penix was good enough late Saturday. Indiana tied it 28-28 when he scored with 22 seconds left in regulation and then lunged in for a two-point conversion.
In overtime, the Nittany Lions scored a touchdown on their first possession. The Hoosiers took five plays on their opportunity to score when Whop Philyor caught a 9-yard pass from Penix to draw Indiana within 35-34.
Allen had already made his decision to go for two. Each side called a timeout before Penix somehow gained the edge rolling left. The ruling on the field was touchdown -- Penix had nudged the ball into the pylon and across the goal line while being hit by Penn State safety Jaquan Brisker.
Immediately after the game, Franklin hadn't seen enough to form an opinion on the call that was upheld after review.
"If it was something that could have went either way, then it's inconclusive and the call stands," Franklin said. "But I haven't seen it."
Until that point, there was more frustration looming for Indiana. The Hoosiers allowed Penn State to come back from deficits of 17-7 and 20-14. Looking at the numbers, Indiana should have been run out of the building. The Hoosiers were outgained 488-211. Penn State quarterback Sean Clifford accounted for 357 yards of total offense and four touchdowns.
But Jake Pinegar missed three field goals, the last a 57-yarder to win it in regulation with 3 seconds left. Penn State's lack of depth is already beginning to show. It is missing All-American linebacker Micah Parsons, who opted out, and leading rusher Journey Brown, who is sidelined with a health issue.
Penn State is now staring at an 0-2 start as it heads home to play Ohio State. Meanwhile, Indiana has defeated its highest-ranked opponent since 1967.
"Them boys fought to the last whistle," Penix said of his teammates.
They also fought for Tom Allen.