Hilltoppers losing skid continues, new face at quarterback

Graduate linebacker Eli Brown (32) wrestles UAB redshirt senior (10) Hayden Pittman to the ground. Senior defensive back (31) Antwon Kincade stays poised to make a play against the Blazer. 

Matthew Hargrove

For the second week in a row the Hilltoppers (1-4), (1-2, C-USA) couldn’t squander any positive outcome, as WKU’s uneventful second half gave the University of Alabama at Birmingham (4-1), (2-0, C-USA) a convincing 37-14 victory.

The Hilltoppers now look to bounce back this Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium against the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga. Kickoff is set for 3 p.m. CDT.

This will be the Mocs lone game of the 2020 season due to COVID-19 concerns.

“It’s not about what the weakness are, it’s more about taking care of the football. If you take care of the football you’re going to be in this game in the fourth quarter trying to win the game,” head coach Tyson Helton said Monday when asked about what the team needs to work on. 

The biggest news coming into Saturday’s contest was Helton giving the nod to redshirt sophomore quarterback Kevaris Thomas, handing the young signal-caller his first collegiate start.

Graduate quarterback Tyrrell Pigrome having turf toe throughout the week played a big role in Helton’s decision to roll out Thomas against UAB.

Thomas fared well, throwing for 162 passing yards and two touchdown passes while tossing two interceptions. Ultimately though, the young gunslinger’s performance couldn’t push his team to the top.

“Not good enough. I feel like I could have [done] a lot of things better to help the team,” Thomas said when evaluating his performance.

Sophomore tight end Joshua Simon was Thomas’ go-to target. Thomas found Simon six times for 81 yards. Thomas also located Simon in the endzone on a six-yard throw.

Sloppy is the keyword that describes how the opening quarter went for both teams, as there were a total of three turnovers in the first 15 minutes.

“We just didn’t execute, they played good defense and I couldn’t put my finger on one particular thing. We’ll keep on working hard to get better,” Helton said.

After the Blazers redshirt freshman kicker Matthew Quinn booted a 38-yard field goal for the first points of the game, an interception and a fumble on back to back drives followed.

Thomas threw his first career interception to redshirt senior cornerback Brontae Harris, then senior defensive back Trae Meadows forced a fumble out of the hands of redshirt freshman tight end Terrell McDonald. 

This WKU turnover gave life to the Hilltoppers, as Thomas found senior wideout Mitchell Tinsley on a six-yard pass to the endzone to give the Hilltoppers a 7-3 lead.

Seeing that the turnover worked out so well for WKU, the Blazers jumped on the bandwagon to get themselves going.

UAB created a fumble out of the hands of sophomore receiver Dayton Wade, which in turn led to the Blazers taking a 10-7 lead on a two-yard touchdown run from senior running back Spencer Brown.

Freshman running back Dewayne McBride started the second quarter with some fireworks, going 71 yards on a touchdown run to make it a two-possession game at 17-7.

Thomathouganswerebacwith authority, finding Simon for a touchdown on the next drive to bring the deficit back to three.

When it seemed like was going to be a 17-14 score going into the half, that’s when everything started to drift away for the Hilltoppers.

With under a minute left in the second quarter, freshman quarterback Bryson Lucero completed a two-yard touchdown pass to redshirt senior receiver Austin Watkins. This moved the score to 24-14 at the half.

To begin the second half, WKU’s senior punter John Haggerty was blocked on a punt attempt that was returned for 37-yards into the endzone by redshirt freshman Ryan Davis.

After that, the Blazers got a 44 and 30-yard field goal from Quinn, which ended thscorinankepUAundefeatein conference play.

Rushing was an issue the entire game for the Hilltoppers, as they were out-ran 217 yards to 88. WKU also struggled mightily on third down, converting only once out of their 12 tries (8%).

“Obviously we couldn’t get anything going in the second half at all, but some things to build off of, things to correct, and keep battling,” Helton said.

The Hilltoppers will play in what feels like a must-win game Saturday when the Mocs come to the Hill.

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