2019 Best Game Story: Mike DeFabo

Comment by the judge: Heart touching story that was superbly written. Reading the story made you feel as if you were there, watching the game. Excellent quotes from Jeff Brohm and the Purdue players. Good background to remind everyone what a mammoth upset this was, mentioning that Purdue had lost its first three games. Also good info on three players who almost weren’t on this Purdue team, but played a big part in the victory.

By Mike DeFabo

Anderson Herald-Bulletin

WEST LAFAYETTE — Just getting to the game would have been a win in itself for Tyler Trent.

The Carmel native, fighting for every day he has left, went to sleep Friday night thinking he wouldn’t make it to Purdue’s game against No. 2 Ohio State at Ross-Ade Stadium. His terminal bone cancer sapped his energy. He vomited all day. Already the growing tumor on his spine metastasized to his kidneys, forcing him to leave the university and enter hospice care. If the game had been on Friday, his mother said he wouldn’t have been there.

But Saturday was a different day, and Tyler is a different breed.

We’re talking about the guy who earned super fan status last year by camping outside of Ross-Ade Stadium just hours after undergoing chemotherapy. He made it then. He was going to find a way to make it to this one, knowing it’s likely the last game he’ll see in person.

A family friend shaved a Purdue “P” into what’s left of his thinning hair and outlined it with paint, and Tyler slipped on his gold-and-black blazer. At kickoff, Tyler was there to hear the Boilermaker fans chant “Cancer Sucks,”altering their traditional chant by replacing their biggest rival, IU, with an even more hated one.

That was a win. Tyler won.

“Someone who is a Boilermaker through and through,” quarterback David Blough said. “We needed to show the courage and the toughness and the fight that he displays every single day. We love him. We’ve been playing for him. We’ve been praying for him.”

Then, what was supposed to be a special moment turned into something more.

The Boilermakers, a team that started the season 0-3 and is not long removed from being a college football punchline, toppled the No. 2-ranked team in the country in dominant fashion.

Purdue 49, Ohio State 20.

A sellout crowd of 60,716 rushed the field to celebrate the Boilers’ first win over a top-five opponent since 1999. Somewhere in the crowd, Tyler’s brother, Ethan, pushed Trent’s wheelchair to help him be part of the celebration he inspired.

“The fact that he was so strong to be here and he’s been so strong the last couple months and the last couple years is an inspiration to all of us,” Purdue second-year coach Jeff Brohm said. “It really goes to show what you can do if you put your mind to it, you have a great attitude, you have a lot of positive energy in you and you want to do something special.”

Purdue (4-3, 3-1 Big Ten) battled with Tyler on their hearts and the callused toughness of a team that learned the hard lessons that come from losing the first three games of the season by a combined eight points.

The Boilers vowed to play and coach aggressively, and they did exactly that on both sides of the ball. Purdue’s young defense harassed quarterback Dwayne Haskins, blitzing from all angles, to hold one of the nation’s most high-octane offenses out of the end zone for more than 50 minutes.

Meanwhile, Brohm rolled the dice twice in the first half and hit sevens both times. He called a QB sneak on fourth-and-short at midfield that extended one touchdown drive. A fake field goal at the end of the first half set the table for a second to give the Boilers a 14-3 lead going into halftime.

Ohio State came into Ross-Ade Stadium and sprinted directly for the Boilers’ corner of the end zone, inviting confrontation during warmups, as if they were going to walk in and prove they were the blue blood.

The Boilers never flinched.

“It comes down from the head coach,” said running back D.J. Knox, who rushed for 132 yards and three touchdowns. “Coach Brohm lets us know, we’re going to come out and punch them in the mouth. He looks at you with a straight face, you’re like, OK.”

Along the way, players motivated by perceived slights, continued to prove their doubters wrong.

Quarterback David Blough was supposed to be the backup five weeks ago before an Elijah Sindelar practice injury. The senior threw for 378 yards and three touchdowns.

Rondale Moore, who had his choice of Alabama, Florida State, Texas and, yes even The Ohio State, shocked everyone when he picked Purdue. The electric freshman who could have been on the other sideline justified his decision by reeling in 170 receiving yards and two touchdowns.

Senior defensive back Antonio Blackmon walked on to Purdue when no others offered scholarships and has had to compete to keep his position all year. Against a team filled with five-star recruits, the former walk-on broke up three passes in the end zone.

The stories go on. But perhaps the best of them was this: Junior linebacker Markus Bailey, who grew up in the shadows of Ohio Stadium, wasn’t offered a scholarship by the Buckeyes out of high school. He caught a key onside kick that iced the game and then, for good measure, added a 41-yard pick-6.

“This is probably the best game of my career,” Bailey said. “If I could choose a game to have it, it’s the team I’d want to have it against.”

This is a win that will send the college football world into a frenzy. The Boilers blindsided the Buckeyes. It was stunning. Shocking.

And, yet, as the second half wore on, Tyler sat there with his signature smile on his face.

Surprised? Ha. Not in the least. Tyler called this.

The Boilermakers invited Tyler to lead the crowd in “Shout,” a tradition at the start of the fourth quarter. They filmed a segment before the game with Tyler proclaiming, “I’m about to watch Purdue beat Ohio State.”

By the time the segment aired, his prediction was looking more like a premonition of Ohio State’s imminent demise.

“I’m just glad my prediction came true,” Tyler smiled.

As the final minutes approached, Tyler’s dad, Tony, tapped him on the shoulder. He had one more question: “Do you want to go onto the field and in the locker room?”

He didn’t have to wait for the answer.

Mike DeFabo

Mike DeFabo

Age: 29

College: American University

Background: After graduating from college in 2012, I spent the next year applying to more than 100 journalism jobs … and getting none of them. Finally, I got my first opportunity at a small paper in Fairmont, W.Va. When I told my friends that I was going to cut my salary in half and move to a town where I didn’t know a soul, they thought I was crazy. But it turned out to be the best risk I’ve ever taken. It led to opportunities covering preps in the Chicago suburbs, a chance to cover Purdue football and basketball for nearly three years and a stint covering Michigan State. Recently, I began the next chapter of my career as the Penguins beat writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. It’s an exciting opportunity to return to my Western Pennsylvania roots and write for the paper I grew up reading.