Hilltoppers prevail over Blue Raiders, The Thundering Herd up next

WKU running back Jakairi Moses signals a first down after rushing for 10 yards to the MTSU 34 yard line on Oct. 3, 2020 in Floyd stadium. The Hilltoppers defeated the Blue Raiders 20-17 to advance to 1-2 on the season. Moses finished the night with 5 carries for 36 yards.

Matthew Hargrove

The Hilltoppers (1-2), (1-0, C-USA) took down the Middle Tennessee State University Blue Raiders (0-4), (0-2, C-USA) on Saturday by a score of 20-17.

WKU will now focus on Marshall University (2-0) who had their most recent game postponed against Rice University due to COVID-19 concerns on Sept. 15. The Thundering Herd has yet to play in a conference game this season before coming to Bowling Green.

Kickoff against Marshall is slated for 6:30 p.m. this Saturday, and the contest will double as WKU’s homecoming game.

The Thundering Herd defense has allowed one touchdown against its opponents this season and as a team outscoring them 76-7. Redshirt freshman quarterback Grant Wells has led the way for Marshall this season. Wells has tossed for 470 yards and four touchdown passes.

Graduate quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome and junior running back Jakairi Moses led a late fourth-quarter touchdown drive to help the Hilltoppers seal their first win of the season while being matchup No. 70 of the 100 miles of hate rivalry. 

Pigrome played the hero on the gridiron at MTSU collecting two touchdown passes while throwing for 188 yards and rushing for 55 more on the ground. The graduate signal caller through three games has yet to throw an interception on the year.

The Hilltoppers now move to 1-0 in Conference USA and 34-35-1 all-time against the Blue Raiders.

It was a pleasant day for football in Floyd Stadium, 70 degrees and clear as the teams lined up for the kickoff.

The game began with back-to-back three and outs from the respective programs, as well as a blocked field goal from senior linebacker DeAngelo Malone which led to a quick and scoreless first quarter.

For the Hilltopper defense, in particular, they were able to put together four tackles for loss, including two sacks from Malone and senior linebacker Eli Brown in those first 15 minutes.  

“It just reconfirmed what we were last season, and just having the feeling like ok, our defense is coming to play, they’re gonna be okay, they’re going to be in control of the game,” Head Coach Tyson Helton said when talking about WKU’s defense to start the game.

More consistency was found with the offense in the second quarter starting with a 47-yard field goal from sophomore Brayden Narveson to give WKU a 3-0 lead, but it didn’t last long.

The Blue Raiders scored on their next two drives that saw junior quarterback Asher O’Hara reach the endzone on a 1-yard run and senior Crews Holt boot a 44-yard field goal.

Down by a touchdown with halftime right around the corner, Pigrome found his groove and eventually hit senior receiver Xavier Lane in the endzone on a 6-yard pass with 0:21 remaining on the clock.

“Just focusing and having fun, really my main thing,” Lane said when highlighting his performance. “Just making plays when my number is called. I left some balls out there on the field, but Coach Helton, all he wants is just to win so that’s what it is all about.”

Lane added 73 receiving yards on seven receptions to his touchdown and had a nice complimentary performance from sophomore wideout Dayton Wade, who had 66 receiving yards on seven receptions.

“Very, very impressed,” Helton said when talking about his receiving crew. “Made some critical catches, some tough catches, a lot of contested catches. You know, critical downs when we needed them.”

All tied at 10 going into the second half, there was a sense that one program would give way and fall behind on the scoreboard.

Narveson scored the only points of the third quarter booting a 53-yard field goal, which continued to keep it a one-possession game for WKU heading into the final quarter.

With 12:43 left in the game, the WKU offense took the field like normal, yet there was something unusual about the lineup that rolled out onto the grass.

Senior running back Gaej Walker was not in the backfield, not freshman running back Chase Jones, but Moses was slotted in the position to try and give the Hilltoppers some valuable production, in which he did not disappoint.

Moses accounted for more than half of the WKU yards on their 68-yard drive, which lasted 6:39 with 36-rushing yards that led to Pigrome finding sophomore tight end Joshua Simon on an 11-yard touchdown pass.

“I just felt like we needed a little bit of a spark to get something in the run game,” said Helton. “Jakairi has always kind of been that guy you can plug in, and he went out there and gave us that spark.”

Down 20-10, O’Hara tossed his first touchdown pass of the night on a 2-yard throw to senior receiver C.J. Windham leaving the onside kick being the last hope for MTSU.

Holt’s onside attempt was unsuccessful as the ball did not reach ten yards giving way for the Hilltoppers to line up in victory formation.

WKU has momentum that they so desperately wanted going into what will be another high-spirited game next week.

The Hilltoppers will look to hand Marshall their first loss of the season when the Thundering Herd travel to the Hill on Saturday for the Moonshine Throwdown.

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