WKU defeats Southern Miss snapping losing skid, Malone and Key have historic game

WKU senior defensive end, DeAngelo Malone (10) broke the WKU football program sack record on Nov. 14, 2020. WKU defeated Southern Mississippi 10-7.

Matthew Hargrove

WKU (3-6), (2-3, C-USA) was back at home on Saturday, a game in which the Hilltoppers ended their two-game losing streak with a 10-7 victory over the University of Southern Mississippi (2-6), (1-3, C-USA). The matchup between the two programs ended in rising tempers ultimately resulting in an unusual ending. 

“Very very proud of our football team. Just battling back after a tough loss last week,” head coach Tyson Helton said. “Hats off to our defense, phenomenal job, just very impressed in back-to-back weeks of just total domination out there on the field. I’m just happy to get the win.”

Senior linebacker DeAngelo Malone and senior defensive end Devon Key made program history in the win over the Golden Eagles. Malone now holds the record for most sacks with 25 and Key with 327 tackles during his time on the Hill.

“That’s a great honor especially to break the record and to get a great win,” Helton said. “They are our two leaders, and I can’t say enough about those guys they do a phenomenal job and I am very proud of them.”

The second to last home game in Houchens-Smith Stadium saw 3,815 people in the stands, the final game will be on Nov. 21 against Florida International University (0-4), (0-2, C-USA).

The Golden Eagles kicked off the game with a 19-yard run right out of the gate from freshman running back Frank Gore Jr. but were stopped later in the drive at midfield.

It was the Hilltoppers’ time to run out the offense and WKU caught fire, putting together one of their best drives of the year.

Graduate quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome highlighted the possession with a 47-yard pass to redshirt senior wideout, Xavier Lane, which in turn allowed Pigrome to get into the endzone on a one-yard run. This gave the Hilltoppers a 7-0 lead, as well as their first touchdown since their matchup against Brigham Young University.

WKU had another strong drive after forcing Southern Miss to go three and out, but they were unable to punch it into the end zone like in their first possession.

Pigrome led an 18 play, 65-yard drive that resulted in a 24-yard field goal for the reliable redshirt sophomore kicker Brayden Narveson. Narveson’s early second quarter boot put the Hilltoppers up by two possessions that increased the lead to 10-0.

Third-string redshirt sophomore quarterback Trey Lowe couldn’t get any momentum going to this point, beginning the second quarter the way he ended the first with another three and out for the Golden Eagles. 

Midway through the second quarter, Pigrome made his first mistake of the game with a fumble from the USM 47-yard line. WKU recovered the fumble but was forced to punt from their own 37-yard line.

This USM stop gave a little bit of a nudge into the Golden Eagles offense. Lowe ran for 27-yards into enemy territory that set up redshirt junior kicker Briggs Bourgeois for a 42-yard field goal try.

Bourgeois’ kick missed right, keeping the Golden Eagles scoreless and still down by two possessions.

History was made on the defensive side right before the half, with Devon Key breaking the Hilltopper record for most tackles in the FBS era. Key snatched tackle No. 327 to climb into that pristine top spot.

After the milestone, the WKU offense tried one last drive to put some points on the board before the second half. The Hilltoppers made it all the way to the USM 42-yard line with five seconds remaining, making time for one final play.

Pigrome went for the hail mary pass but threw it out of bounds to keep his team’s lead at 10-0 after 30 minutes of play.

Pigrome had one of his best halves of the season, throwing for 152-yards while completing 56.5 % of his passing attempts going 13-23. The veteran signal-caller also had 16-yards rushing to add to his touchdown run in the first quarter.

For USM’s quarterback in Lowe, it was a different story. Lowe had just 31 passing yards on five attempts while rushing for 26-yards on five carries.

“I liked seeing him move around in the pocket and getting out when there was some trouble. He brings a lot to our offense,” Lane said of Pigrome’s play against Southern Miss.

The Hilltoppers started the second half the way they looked all last week on offense against Florida Atlantic University.

On WKU’s second drive of the third quarter, the Hilltoppers made it all the way up to the USM 38-yard line but turned the ball over on downs trying to convert on fourth and one.

Once again, WKU entered Golden Eagles territory on their next drive of the quarter but was forced to punt after a sack from lineman Zach Potluck drove the Hilltoppers back to the USM 42-yard line. 

Moving to the final frame, senior linebacker Kyle Bailey was ejected within the first three minutes of the fourth quarter for targeting. Bailey was almost ejected from last week’s game because of a punch thrown on an FAU player.

The penalty on Bailey moved the Golden Eagles to WKU’s 27-yard line, and that’s all they needed to finally get their first score of the game.

A few plays later, redshirt senior running back Kevin Perkins bullied his way into the endzone on a three-yard run that cut the deficit to 10-7 with 10:30 remaining in regulation.

With the game intensifying by the minute, Pigrome showed his cool, calm, and collected senior leadership on the Hilltoppers’ very next possession.

The graduate quarterback led the Hilltoppers to the USM 22-yard line before being stopped on third down. With just one more yard to gain for a first down, Helton decided to push for the first down on fourth and one.

Pigrome handed off the ball to Staples needing to grind his way through a fortress of bodies but was unable to do so. WKU turned the ball over on downs for the second time in the second half, and the Golden Eagles offense took over with just under six minutes to play.

The USM offense continued to show signs of life, kicking their next drive off with a 31-yard run from Perkins into Hilltopper territory.

The momentum of the drive was on hold though, when linebacker DeAngelo Malone sacked Lowe all the way back to the WKU 49-yard to make it third and 19. 

This sack from Malone broke another WKU defensive record on Saturday, as the talented linebacker got sack No. 25 to break the record for most sacks in WKU’s FBS era history.

“Not really, but once I saw it on the board I was like wow I really did that,” Malone stated when asked if he knew he broke the record at the time of the sack.

The takedown was a big one at that, as the USM had to punt and give the ball back to the Hilltoppers with 2:49 left. The Golden Eagles still had two timeouts remaining.

USM forced WKU to go three and out, using both of their timeouts in the process. The Golden Eagles would have one more opportunity to try and tie or win it with 1:44 remaining in the game.

Starting from the 50-yard line, the Hilltopper had their best stop of the night. WKU forced USM to turn the ball over on downs.

Because tensions started to flare between the two teams at the end of the USM possession and the game was basically over, the officials decided to call the game with 41 seconds remaining. 

Nevertheless, the Hilltoppers took the victory 10-7 and received their third win of the year.

Lane helped WKU secure the win in a huge way, putting up his best numbers of the season with 90-receiving yards on five receptions. Redshirt junior running back Jakairi Moses led the Hilltoppers in rushing with 40-yards on 12 carries, averaging 3.3-yards per run.

“I guess the numbers don’t lie, this was probably my best performance,” Lane said of his performance. “I’m just glad we got this win so that way we can go into next week looking for another win, we just have to keep rolling.”

For USM, they got valuable production from their running backs in Perkins and Gore, who combined for 137-yards on the ground. Perkins picked up 71-yards, while Gore ran for 66.

Third-string quarterback Lowe couldn’t amount to anything positive tonight with both the arm and legs. Lowe threw for just 67-yards on 14 passing attempts and ran for 12-yards on 13 carries.

The Hilltoppers will look to get on a winning streak next week when they play their final home game of the season against FIU. Kickoff next Saturday is slated for 1 p.m. 

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