Hilltoppers get in the win column, home finale up next

Western Kentucky University defensive back Devon Key (2) celebrates during Saturdays game against the visiting Southern Miss Golden Eagles. WKU defeated the Golden Eagles 10-7.

Matthew Hargrove

Unlike last week, the WKU (3-6), (2-3, C-USA) offense was able to do just enough to reward their defense and Hilltopper fans with a 10-7 win over the University of Southern Mississippi (2-6), (1-3, C-USA).

A final drive stop from WKU with under two minutes to play depleted all chances of a Golden Eagles comeback victory.

Graduate quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome scored the lone touchdown for the Hilltoppers with a one-yard run on WKU’s first drive of the game. Pigrome added 183 passing yards to his credit, which is the most yards he has thrown for since Oct. 3, when he threw for 188 yards against Middle Tennessee State University.

“I thought he did a really nice job tonight,” Helton said. “I thought he moved up in the pocket well. We have been working a lot, pretty hard on that. He was able to get some yards scrambling, which was good to see.”

Redshirt senior receiver Xavier Lane also had one of his best games of the year, going for 90-receiving yards on five receptions. Junior wideout Mitchell Tinsley was second in receiving for the Hilltoppers with 35-yards on four catches.

Aside from WKU ending their two game losing streak, the afternoon was all about the leaders of the Hilltopper defense in senior defensive back Devon Key and senior defensive end DeAngelo Malone. Both star players etched their names into WKU history by breaking records in Saturday’s contest.

Key grabbed tackle No. 327 of his WKU career, which broke the record for most tackles ever by a Hilltopper in the FBS era. On the other hand, Malone broke the record for most sacks by a WKU player in the FBS era.

“They’re big time playmakers — big leaders on this team, like this is their team right now,” redshirt freshman defensive tackle Ricky Barber said. “Me being a young guy, I’m just learning from them and I’m trying to do my part to make just as many plays as they make.”

Their performances helped put together another phenomenal performance by the Hilltopper defense, holding USM’s quarterback in redshirt sophomore quarterback Trey Lowe to 67-yards on 14 passing attempts.

The only thing the Golden Eagles had going well was running the ball, in which they totaled 154-yards total. 137 of those yards came from redshirt senior running back Kevin Perkins 71-yards and freshman running back Frank Gore Jr. 66-yards.

The Hilltoppers now turn their attention to their final home opponent of the season in Florida International University (0-4), (0-2 C-USA). Kickoff is set for 1 p.m. on Nov. 21 at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

The winless Panthers’ season has been plagued by COVID-19, as FIU has

seen four of their scheduled games postponed and one cancelled.

The Panthers were able to play over the weekend hosting Florida Atlantic University, but picked up a 38-19 loss against the conference foe.

For a team that has compared scoring to pulling teeth, WKU looked like a totally different offense when they first touched the ball in the fourth quarter.

Pigrome and Lane connected for 76-yards within the first seven plays of the game for the Hilltopper offense, which included a 47-yard bomb that moved WKU inside the Golden Eagles five-yard line. This allowed Pigrome to use his speed and twist his way into the endzone to give WKU a very early 7-0 lead.

The second drive was somewhat similar for the Hilltoppers, just the only difference was that WKU could not punch the pigskin into the endzone. The Hilltoppers had to settle for a 24-yard field goal from redshirt sophomore Brayden Narveson, after a 9:10, 65-yard drive.

Key was able to grasp his momentous tackle right before the half, and that was really the only act of excitement until midway through the final frame.

After having to punt on every drive but one beforehand, the USM offense finally got something to go their way when Perkins scrambled his way into the endzone on a six-yard run. The 12 play, 90-yard drive cut the deficit to 10-7 with plenty of time left to play.

WKU almost allowed the Golden Eagles to have all the energy in the ball game, after the Hilltoppers were unable to convert on fourth and one from the USM 22-yard line.

“I knew our kicker could make it, but at the end of the day I wanted it addressed on us,” Helton said. “I knew we were playing good defense, and I would rather go for it on fourth down. I was concerned that field goals weren’t gonna win the game.”

The defense kept things quiet, forcing a punt and a turnover on downs on the next two Golden Eagles drives. Mixing its way into those WKU stops, Malone picked up his record breaking sack.

“Honestly man I wasn’t even thinking I was going to do it, but I did it,” Malone said. “I just let God lead the way.”

Because things got chippy between the two programs at the end of USM’s final drive, the officials called the game with 41 seconds left giving the 10-7 win to WKU.

The Hilltoppers will look to keep the train moving next week against FIU on senior night.

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