Jim Amidon — It was getting late Saturday afternoon at Blackstock Stadium in Greencastle. A back and forth football game between Wabash and DePauw was grinding to a conclusion. Boisterous fans on both sides of the field were screaming loudly with hoarse voices.
Wabash led 25-13, but DePauw’s powerful offense was on the move.
On fourth-and-11 deep in Wabash territory, the Tigers came up a few inches short of a first down. Wabash took over at it’s own eight yard-line.
It was Matt Hudson’s moment.
The senior quarterback, who has led Wabash to so many victories, but none against his archrival, knew that a long drive would kill most of the 11 minutes remaining on the clock.
The lanky, strong-armed passer ran nine yards to the 17 on first down — a good start. But two different Wabash running backs failed to gain an inch on the next two carries, setting up fourth down.
Anyone who knows anything about college football knows the only move to make in that situation — fourth down deep in your own territory — is to punt the ball and let the defense hope to win the game.
Wabash Coach Erik Raeburn wavered; a loud buzz of chatter was noticeable from the sideline where I was standing with my camera. I could actually hear people say, “You gotta punt it, coach!” I could hear others screaming, “Go for it, coach!”
Raeburn called timeout.
Matt Hudson sprinted to the sideline, his eyes wide and bright. He pleaded with his coach to allow him one more chance at redemption — to wipe away the pain of two Monon Bell losses.
I snapped a single photo of the exchange — Coach Raeburn’s expression was one of indecision. He knew the right thing to do was to punt. He also heard — as I did — Matt Hudson say, “I will not fail you, Coach.”
Six words rang out loudest in the stadium at that moment — louder than the clanging Monon Bell or the screams from 8,000 fans.
Raeburn looked into Hudson’s eyes and seized the moment. He made one of — if not the — gutsiest calls I’ve ever seen in the 27 Monon Bell games I’ve attended. He sent Hudson and his offense back onto the field on fourth down at the Wabash 17 yard-line.
There is no quarterback sneak in the Wabash playbook. But that’s precisely what Hudson did. He dove in behind his massive, senior-dominated offensive line and got, maybe, four inches more than he needed.
With the confidence of his coach and screams of excitement from the fans, Hudson willed his team down the field on a 14-play, 92-yard drive that ate up nearly eight minutes. When Tommy Mambourg scrambled over the goal line from a yard out, Wabash claimed an insurmountable 32-13 lead with only five minutes to play.
The crowd, already at a fever pitch, went wild. The Little Giant fans knew the victory was in hand.
A late touchdown from DePauw mattered little, and minutes later the Wabash seniors were ringing the Monon Bell in a sea of fans who had stormed the field.
I can’t imagine the pain felt by DePauw’s seniors, especially their gritty and talented quarterback, Spud Dick. But I saw the pure joy and jubilation on Hudson’s face as the game ended.
With thousands of fans streaming onto the field, Hudson went the other way. He ran into the stands and handed his father, Rusty, the game ball — a present on his dad’s 50th birthday.
Hudson’s legacy as one of Wabash’s all-time great signal callers was likely already cemented — conference championships in 2007 and 2008 that resulted in playoff runs.
What he did in the second half of the biggest game of his life — hitting 10-of-11 passes for 168 yards and two touchdowns — erased his bad memories of Monon losses in both of those conference championship seasons.
Historians may remember the 2009 Monon Bell Classic as one of the truly great games in the storied rivalry. Wabash broke the tie and took a 54-53 edge in the all-time series.
But there’s no doubt in my mind that history will remember one epic Monon moment — when a senior quarterback uttered six little words that convinced his coach to make one of the riskiest decisions of his career.
“I will not fail you, Coach,” Hudson said to Raeburn.
Indeed, Matt Hudson did not fail. He succeeded in grand fashion on the biggest stage of his career, and in doing so provided an epic memory for all who witnessed the 116th edition of college football’s greatest rivalry.