Hilltoppers drop game at FAU, Southern Miss visits the Hill Saturday

Graduate quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome passing from inside the pocket against Florida-Atlantic on Nov. 7, 2020. 

Matthew Hargrove

Nothing has gone WKU’s (2-6), (1-3, C-USA) way this season, and the bad luck continued on Saturday against Florida Atlantic (3-1), (3-1, C-USA).

After not allowing an Owls touchdown for 57 minutes and 33 seconds, the Hilltoppers gave up a late fourth quarter touchdown run to redshirt freshman quarterback Javion Posey that put away WKU by a final score of 10-6.

Posey replaced junior quarterback Nick Tronti in the final frame, in which he added 60 rushing yards on nine carries to his 11-yard run into the endzone.

The almost non-existent Hilltopper offense saw graduate quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome throw for 163 yards on 39 passing attempts. Pigrome did not allow a turnover but could not reach the end zone.

Senior running back Gaej Walker was the lone bright spot, rushing for 78 yards on 17 carries. Walker has gained at least 75 yards on the ground in his last three games.

With three games remaining on WKU’s schedule, the Hilltoppers are officially out of contention for a winning season. This will be head coach Tyson Helton’s first losing season in his two years as a manager.

“Our guys battled extremely hard,” head coach Tyson Helton said. “Disappointed for our football team.”

WKU will look to make things better next week at home when it hosts the University of Southern Mississippi at Houchens-Smith Stadium. Kickoff is set for Saturday at 5 p.m.

“We need to be able to make those explosive plays down the field,” Helton said at Monday’s press conference. “We’ve had several injuries but we’re playing with the best guys that we can play with.”

A little bit like the Hilltoppers, the Golden Eagles have had problems scoring this season. Southern Miss is averaging 25.9 points per game, which ranks seventh in Conference USA.

The Golden Eagles are led by their senior quarterback Jack Abraham, who has thrown for 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Abraham has thrown four interceptions this season as well.

At running back, freshman Frank Gore Jr. will get the brunt of the carries. Gore has averaged 5.4 yards per carry, while rushing for 461 yards and a touchdown. The young back is the son of longtime NFL running back Frank Gore, who is currently toting the pig- skin for the New York Jets.

“Really important. There’s a lot to play for,” Helton said in regards to carrying good momentum into the next season. “I think it’s really important that we continue to play hard, it is what it is winning or losing.”

Shifting back to a stormy night in Boca Raton, Saturday night’s matchup between the Hilltoppers and the Golden Eagles was delayed 35 minutes due to lightning. When it was time to play though, the action didn’t really start until the fourth quarter.

Both defenses came out hot, not allowing either offense to get into the red zone at any point during the first quarter.

“We were getting pressure. That’s something we didn’t do last week against BYU,” senior defensive end Juwuan Jones said. “We were very disruptive in the run game, getting knocked back, living on the other side of the line of scrimmage. And when you do that you get pressure on the quarterback.”

The closest any team got to putting a crooked number up on the board was when WKU reached the FAU 32-yard line. This set up redshirt sophomore kicker Brayden Narveson for a 50-yard field goal, but the kick was booted to the right of the sticks giving Narveson his first miss of the year.

“We were moving the ball strong all the way up to midfield,” junior wideout Mitchell Tinsley said. “We just got to be better at capitalizing and making our plays.”

There were even more punts in the second quarter, and nothing interesting happened until the clock reached zero to end the first half.

Going for a Hail Mary before the half, the Owls were only able to reach the 16- yard line before both teams started a pushing and shoving match at the end of the play. Senior linebacker Kyle Bailey spiraled the situation by throwing what looked to be a punch at an FAU player.

Bailey was initially ejected for his actions, but after further review it was ruled that the veteran did not throw a punch and was reinstated into the game at halftime. 

The first points of the game came midway through the third quarter, thanks to a 40-yard field goal from Owls redshirt kicker Vladimir Rivas.

The Hilltoppers answered the bell almost instantly with a field goal of their own to knot the score at three. A 32-yard field goal from Narveson was the kick that tied the game with 2:57 remaining in the third quarter.

FAU head coach Willie Taggart decided to replace his junior quarterback Tronti for the rookie Posey to begin the fourth quarter.

Posey did not start his night on a high note, throwing an interception into the hands of Bailey that was returned for 24 yards into Owls territory. The interception from Bailey led to another Narveson field goal from 49 yards, which gave WKU their first lead of the game with 8:09 remaining.

With enough time for one final touchdown drive, Posey adopted the clutch gene. The freshman led a 12 play, 75-yard drive that ended in Posey taking the pigskin into the endzone himself. The 11-yard run put FAU over the top, as WKU turned the ball over on downs on their final try to walk away with a victory.

Even though Pigrome wasn’t playing up to par, Helton went on to state that he had no intentions of going to backup redshirt sophomore quarterback Kevaris Thomas.

“No. Not at any point,” Helton said when asked if he thought about bringing in Thomas for Pigrome.

Thomas though might be the main signal caller next week against Southern Miss, with the Hilltoppers most likely not getting a bid for a bowl game.

Football beat reporter Matthew Hargrove can be reached at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @MatthewHargrov1