The only thing Reggie Wayne was focused on late Sunday afternoon was the end zone.
The Indianapolis Colts wide receiver caught a pass from rookie quarterback Andrew Luck inside the 5-yard line with time running out in the fourth quarter and stole a glimpse of painted blue field turf in front of him.
The Green Bay Packers (2-3), desperately protecting a five-point lead, swarmed to the football and several defenders grabbed ahold of Wayne and tried to pull him backward. For just an instant, the 12th-year veteran flicked his hands out toward the goal line, attempting to pierce the plane and put six points on the scoreboard.
Wayne was carrying not just the expectations of 67,020 fans at Lucas Oil Stadium — many of whom were firmly in the visiting team’s corner — nor the hopes of his young teammates. The weight on his back included the watchful eyes of his head coach, Chuck Pagano, resting in a hospital room just down the street as he receives treatment for leukemia.
Wayne went down in a pile of white jerseys and yellow helmets, and he wasn’t yet sure whether he’d scored. It was only when he checked the replay on the giant video board above him that the receiver began to grasp the magnitude of what he’d just accomplished.
It will go down in the record books simply as a 4-yard touchdown reception. And Indianapolis (2-2) needed a little nudge from above that helped push Green Bay kicker Mason Crosby’s 51-yard field goal attempt wide to the left in the final moments.
But the indelible image of this unforgettable game will be of Wayne, fighting off defenders and stretching over the goal line to deliver an unlikely 30-27 victory.
“I just I didn’t want to be denied, you know?” Wayne said, his voice drained by the effort and emotion of the day. “I just wanted to go out there and get in that end zone. That’s what we said in the huddle, ‘Somebody make a play. Somebody cross that end zone.’ Andrew threw me the ball, and I saw that end zone right there. Got a grip on the ball, stuck it in there and tried to hurry up and sneak it back. And it worked out for us. Wasn’t sure at first how close it was, but when I saw it on the replay, I kind of shocked myself a little bit.”
Wayne was not alone in his feeling of disbelief.
The Packers held a 21-3 lead at the half and regained the lead after the Colts scored 19 unanswered points on an eight-yard touchdown pass from reigning MVP Aaron Rodgers to James Jones with 4:30 remaining in the game.
Luck took possession at his own 20-yard-line, facing a defense with a ferocious pass rush and no reason not to come after him on every snap. A false start penalty pushed the Colts back on second down, and Luck needed conversions on third-and-9, third-and-12 and third-and-7 to keep the drive alive.
Luck was sacked four times and hit on six other occasions, and he was supposed to be too young to produce a drive like this. But he’s been unflappable all season, and he wasn’t about to let the situation get the best of him now.
“He makes great decisions,” interim head coach Bruce Arians said. “It’s not always pretty all the time. He’s still a rookie, you can’t forget that, but he’s been wonderful.”
Luck completed 31 of 55 attempts for 362 yards with two touchdowns and one interception, and he had the kind of game that will announce his arrival across the league.
He led the Colts to points on five of his seven second-half drives, starting with an eight-yard touchdown pass to rookie tight end Dwayne Allen early in the third quarter. That drive started on the 39-yard line after Jerraud Powers intercepted Rodgers on Green Bay’s opening drive.
“It was definitely a momentum changer,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “There’s always momentum plays in a game. So that [interception] was a big one for the Colts.”
Adam Vinatieri added a 50-yard field goal on the Colts’ next possession, and Luck drove the team 58 yards on six plays — scoring on a 3-yard quarterback draw to cap the series — to make it 21-19.
A 2-point conversion pass failed, and Luck was intercepted by Green Bay cornerback Casey Hayward on the team’s next possession. But the Indianapolis defense, which sacked Rodgers five times overall, recorded back-to-back sacks to end the ensuing Packers’ drive and give the ball back to the offense.
Luck responded with a 75-yard drive that ended with a 28-yard Vinatieri field goal and gave the Colts the lead for the first time.
“I think coming into halftime, coming back out, we said there’s no 18-point touchdown,” Luck said. “Let’s play our football. We’re not going to change anything. We just got to do better, do better. I think guys took that to heart, much better attention to detail, execution, focus and you have Reggie Wayne making great plays every fifth play.”
Wayne finished with 13 catches for 212 yards, including an amazing one-handed catch while Green Bay safety Charles Woodson was flagged for pass interference against him in the first half.
But, for a moment, it appeared all that effort would go for naught.
Rodgers, who threw for 243 yards and three touchdowns, needed just two plays to lead the Packers 49 yards for a touchdown to regain the lead. A 2-point pass failed, but Green Bay still held a 27-22 advantage.
“Give credit to the Colts,” McCarthy said. “They battled back.”
The ensuing 80-yard drive will live forever in Colts’ lore. Luck targeted Wayne six times on the drive, and the wide receiver rewarded him with five catches for 64 yards.
Wayne was wearing a specially ordered set of orange gloves, the color of the leukemia awareness movement, and they were unmistakable on the field.
“I think the orange gloves were everywhere,” Luck said. “I felt like there were eight pairs of those out there on the field. I told him after the game he was the best football player I’ve ever played with.”
Luck isn’t too bad himself.
He shook off Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews on third-and-9 and fired a strike to Wayne for a 15-yard gain. Moments later, he hit Wayne again for 15 yards — despite tight coverage by Woodson — on third-and-12. And he set up the game-winning touchdown pass with a seven-yard scramble to the Green Bay 4 on third-and-seven.
“Especially as a receiver, you want to be there for him,” Wayne said. “You want to back him up, and you want to make him look good no matter where he throws the ball. You want to give your body up to go and get it. He’s going to be special, he really is.”
This win likely always will hold a special place in the Luck era.
Green Bay drove to the Indianapolis 33-yard line in the closing moments, but Crosby hooked his 51-yard field goal attempt with three seconds left, and the celebration began on the Colts’ sideline.
The 18-point comeback was the largest for Indianapolis since the famous 2003 “Monday Night Football” game in Tampa when the Colts rallied from 21 points down to beat the Buccaneers 38-35 in overtime.
That game didn’t carry the personal significance of this one, however. To a man, the Colts wanted this win for Pagano.
And, ultimately, Wayne made sure they got it.
His performance was reminiscent of Kellen Winslow’s dominant playoff game for the San Diego Chargers against the Miami Dolphins in 1982, and it was all done in service of his head coach.
“To be able to come out and just do it for him, I said to myself I was going to lay it all out on the line,” Wayne said. “The were going to have to carry me off, the old Winslow Senior, give everything I had. As a team, we were able to just keep fighting, fighting, fighting and fighting. It was collective effort for everybody that was able to find a way, and we got it done.”
Colts stun Packers, take game ball to hospitalized coach
The only thing Reggie Wayne was focused on late Sunday afternoon was the end zone.
Kats drop heartbreaker
When the postseason arrives, emotions surge like a roller-coaster. One minute, it’s a long uphill, then a wild series of events offer a barrage of frights and thrills. And then, for one team, the ride ends and there aren’t any more tickets for another go around.
After two days of chills and thrills, Kokomo’s softball team ran out of tickets Tuesday night in the Class 4A Harrison Sectional. The Kats dropped a 4-3 decision to Harrison in eight innings, giving up a run in the top of the extra frame, and having a runner tagged out at home in the bottom of the frame.
“It was a great game,” Harrison coach Dick Mitchell said. “It’s always nerve-wracking to coach in one of them, but both teams played their hearts out. Nobody deserved to lose that game, but unfortunately somebody does.”
Comets turn heads at track regional
Heading into Tuesday’s IHSAA girls track and field regional at Fort Wayne Northrop High School’s Spuller Stadium, event workers alike weren’t sure of Eastern High School’s location.
After the dust settled, they may feel compelled to get a map out and find out where Greentown is located.
Led by seniors Sarah Wagner, Brittany Neeley and Bethany Neeley, the Comets qualified for the state finals in six separate events to finish fourth as a team with 55.5 points, behind host and champion Northrop (78), Bellmont (68) and Carroll (Allen) 66.
GASKINS: Hibbert’s block was thing of beauty
For the better part of the NBA season, ESPN devoted all kinds of time on SportsCenter episodes to replays of two dunks. Anyone who watches any ESPN at all surely knows the two to which I’m referring: 6-foot-11 DeAndre Jordan of the Los Angeles Clippers posterizing 6-3 Brandon Knight of the Detroit Pistons, and 6-8 LeBron James of the Miami Heat hammering home a dunk over 6-2 Jason Terry of the Boston Celtics.
Day after day, ESPN commentators lavished endless praise, which quickly grew tiresome. The dunks were strong, but Jordan and James were much taller and heavier than Knight and Terry and the dunkers also caught perfect alley-oop passes with the defenders in poor positions to defend. Still, ESPN commentators loved these plays.
I kept wondering if a great defensive play would receive the same kind of love.
Coons, Walker, Glassburn reach Victory Lane
When the dust settled Sunday evening at the Kokomo Speedway, a pair of drivers who have visited Victory Lane in the past at the local oval found themselves there once again while a talented up-and-comer hit the hallowed ground for the first time.
Jerry Coons Jr. had his way in the sprint car feature and Craig Walker seemed to get faster as the laps wound down to win the Street Stock main event, however Kokomo High School sophomore Kory Glassburn had to scratch and fight before scoring the first feature win of his career in the Thunder Car A-main.
Field is set for Indianapolis 500
After being bumped from the starting field while sitting on the qualifying line on pole day, Josef Newgarden turned the fastest time on bump day, assuring himself a spot in the Indianapolis 500.
The field of 33 cars will have one final opportunity to practice on Friday before next Sunday’s 97th running of the 500.
One year ago the Sarah Fisher Racing Team withdrew Newgarden’s entry on the first day of qualifying and had to qualify on bump day. This year the team decided not to make another qualifying run and got bumped.
Athlete of the week
Cole led the small-school Comets to the Kokomo Sectional title, their first title since 1998.
Kats regain tennis throne
At 10:51 a.m. Saturday morning, the bulk of Kokomo’s girls tennis team sprinted from the viewing hill to the east entrance of the tennis courts to mob No. 1 singles player Morgan Mohr as she came off the court following her 1-6, 6-1, 6-1 victory over Eastern’s Courtney Clark.
The No. 3 singles match was still raging, but the team match was already won. The Wildkats had reconquered the throne from two-time defending champion Eastern and were once again champions of the Kokomo Sectional.
Eastern boys track claims first sectional title since 1998
The boys track and field coach at Eastern High School from 1987 until last season, Paul Nicholson’s parting message to his team was simple: “Don’t deny the gift.”
That motto left such a lasting impression on the Comets’ returning athletes that they had it screen printed on their 2013 season T-shirts.
With Nicholson in attendance to celebrate with them, new coach Austin Roark and the Comets outlasted host Kokomo to win their first sectional title since 1998 Thursday night, topping the Wildkats by 3.5 points, 124.5-121.
Eastern, Kokomo favored in boys track sectional
Some of the names and faces have changed, but the plot remains much the same.
The Kokomo boys track and field sectional, much like last year, will likely be a two-horse race between the host and three-time defending champion Wildkats and Eastern, a team looking to break through and win its first sectional title since 1998.
Cole to jump at Miami University
Eastern athlete Grant Cole has only been a long jumper for two seasons, but being turned on to the event late in his career has landed him a scholarship to Miami University.
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