WKU falls to FAU in battle for bowl eligibility, drops to third in C-USA East Division

WKU junior defensive back Antwon Kincade (31) celebrates with junior defensive back Trae Meadows (7) after disrupting a pass during the Hilltoppers’ game against Florida Atlantic in Houchens-Smith Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 2 in Bowling Green.

Alec Jessie

The WKU football team (5-4, 4-2 C-USA) ceded even more ground in the Conference USA East Division race against Florida Atlantic (6-3, 4-1 C-USA) on Saturday afternoon, as the Hilltoppers dropped their second straight conference game in Houchens-Smith Stadium.

A win would’ve kept the Hilltoppers in sole possession of first place in the East, but another loss has given both FAU and Marshall (6-3, 4-1 C-USA) head-to-head tiebreakers over WKU and allowed the Owls and Thundering Herd to move into a tie for first place in the division.

“It was a hard-fought battle between two good football teams,” head coach Tyson Helton said postgame. “Credit to FAU. They made the play when it needed to be made. Very proud of our kids. They just battled extremely hard. There’s no quit in our guys. Very proud of how they competed. Obviously, a disappointing loss and we’ll try to fix the problems.”

Graduate transfer quarterback Ty Storey completed 32-of-47 passes for 380 yards and threw two touchdowns and three interceptions.

Senior receiver Lucky Jackson caught nine passes for a career-high 194 yards. Redshirt junior running back Gaej Walker ran for 53 yards on his 14 carries, while freshman kicker Cory Munson went 1 for 1 on field goal attempts.

“He’s one of our best receivers,” Storey said about Jackson postgame. “He’s a good receiver, so we’re going to keep feeding him the ball. We’ve had a really good connection ever since spring ball. He’ll keep battling hard.”

FAU quarterback Chris Robison completed 18-of-29 passes for 208 yards and two touchdowns. Running back James Charles rushed 10 times for 65 yards, while wide receiver Harrison Bryant caught six passes for 74 yards.

The Owls accumulated 448 yards of total offense, which was the most the Hilltopper defense has allowed in C-USA play. WKU racked up 444 yards of its own, but the offense couldn’t overcome four turnovers from Storey, who lost a fumble and threw a trio of picks.

“First half, we couldn’t get things going,” redshirt junior defensive end DeAngelo Malone said postgame. “We’re all playing hard. At the end, we just have to finish and execute.”

FAU won the opening coin toss, elected to defer and WKU received the opening kickoff.

Jackson got the WKU offense going on its first possession of the contest, snatching a 6-yard catch to the WKU 30-yard line. The Hilltopper drive stalled out from that point on, and WKU was quickly forced to punt away its first possession.

FAU took over at its own 25 after the punt. Robison completed a 27-yard pass to Bryant for the first FAU first down of the game. The Owls were grounded from there, and FAU couldn’t convert a fourth down attempt. WKU then took over at its own 42 for its second drive of the game.

WKU struck almost immediately on its second possession, scoring on a 54-yard touchdown pass from Storey to Jackson. WKU then led 7-0 with 9:16 left in the first quarter.

The Hilltopper defense forced the first three-and-out of the game and the WKU offense took over at its own 20-yard line after a 47-yard punt from FAU punter Matt Hayball.

FAU safety Ahman Ross was called for targeting on an incomplete pass to freshman tight end Joshua Simon, disqualifying himself from the game and giving WKU an automatic first down at its own 35-yard line. Storey converted a third down with his legs to get WKU close to midfield.

Jackson came up big for the WKU offense once again, this nabbing a 40-yard pass to get the Hilltoppers into the red zone for the first time.

After a few more rushes from Walker and Storey, the Hilltopper quarterback finished off the drive himself with a 2-yard touchdown rush. WKU then led 14-0 with 3:31 left in the first quarter.

The WKU defense did its job, forcing another three-and-out on the Owls’ next possession. A 77-yard punt from Hayball pinned WKU inside its own 5-yard line, but Jackson moved the chains with a 7-yard catch on third down to keep the Hilltopper drive alive a little longer.

The WKU drive stretched into the second quarter. Jahcour Pearson made his first catch of the day on a third-and-8 play, picking up 13 yards and another Hilltopper first down.

The Hilltoppers flamed out offensively after FAU linebacker Akileis Leroy sacked Storey for a loss of 10 yards, and WKU was forced to punt for the second time soon after.

FAU took over at its own 30 after the punt. Malone and Juwuan Jones combined to sack Robison for a loss for 12 yards to the FAU 18 on first down.

After the Owls couldn’t convert on third down, FAU was quickly forced to punt for its fourth consecutive possession.

But FAU got on the board for the first time soon after WKU regained possession, as Leroy sacked Storey for a loss of 11 and forced a fumble that cornerback Chris Tooley picked up for a 25-yard scoop-and-score touchdown. FAU then trailed 14-7 with 8:36 remaining in the half.

The FAU defense stood up again and forced the first three-and-out of the afternoon for the WKU offense. FAU took over at its own 42-yard line after the punt.

FAU pulled out a bit of trickery, as wide receiver Brandon Robinson completed a 41-yard pass to backup quarterback Nick Tronti. Larry McCammon III then punched the ball in from 11 yards out to tie the game, and FAU pulled even at 14-14 with 5:16 left in the first half.

WKU could not convert a third-and-10 play and was forced to punt yet again. FAU took over at its own 22-yard line after the punt.

McCammon III picked up a first down and FAU receiver Tavaris Harrison picked up 31 yards on third down to get FAU into WKU territory. Robison ran for another first down a couple plays later.

FAU running back Chauncey Mason ran the ball inside the WKU 10-yard line. After a review, officials ruled that Robison completed a 9-yard pass to Harrison for a touchdown. FAU then had its first lead of the game with 46 seconds left in the half, 21-14.

WKU limped into the break after a three-and-out on its final possession, but not before the Owls had rattled off 21 unanswered points and built a 21-14 lead at halftime.

Storey threw for 155 yards on 14-of-16 passing with a touchdown and a fumble. Walker ran for 33 yards on 10 carries, while Jackson continued his red-hot play with 111 receiving yards and a touchdown on five catches in the first half.

Robison passed for 95 yards on 8-of-14 passing with a touchdown. McCammon III rushed for 22 yards and a touchdown on his three carries, while both Harrison and Bryant had 40 scoreless receiving yards for FAU in the opening half.

FAU received the second-half kickoff after winning the opening toss and electing to defer.

A 15-yard pass interference penalty on redshirt junior Clay Davis moved the ball close to midfield and gave FAU an automatic first down at its own 49-yard line.

FAU wide receiver Willie Wright soon got behind the WKU defense, scoring on a 51-yard touchdown reception. The Hilltoppers then trailed 28-14 with 13:53 left in the third frame.

Storey was picked off by FAU cornerback James Pierre on the first play of WKU’s opening drive of the second half, and the Owls took back over on offense at the WKU 38-yard line.

The WKU defense finally held strong, getting off the field on FAU’s fourth down gamble. The WKU offense then took over at its own 29-yard line with its sights set on scoring points.

Jackson got WKU moving with a 20-yard reception to the FAU 48-yard line. Walker followed it up with a 12-yard run to get WKU well into FAU territory. The WKU drive stalled out after a fast start, and the offense turned the ball over on downs after failing to convert a fourth-and-4 play.

The WKU defense held strong again, forcing a three-and-out by the FAU offense and allowing the Hilltoppers to regain possession at their own 18-yard line.

Junior tight end Steven Witchoskey moved the ball to the WKU 33-yard line, while Pearson got the ball close to midfield with another first down catch. Jackson then came down with a massive reception, moving WKU 45 yards to the FAU 10-yard line.

Jacquez Sloan finished off the scoring drive with a 5-yard touchdown catch, and WKU was down 28-21 with 3:46 left in the third quarter.

The WKU defense forced a stop on third down during the Owls’ next possession, but FAU ran a successful fake punt on fourth down that picked up first down yardage. Bryant kept the drive moving with a 25-yard catch to the WKU 41, extending the possession into the final quarter.

The WKU defense got off the field after stopping FAU receiver Deangelo Antoine for no gain on a third-and-9 play at the WKU 40, forcing another punt by FAU. The WKU offense took over at its own 5-yard line with a chance to tie or take the lead after a 35-yard punt.

Quin Jernighan and Jackson caught back-to-back first down passes to get WKU out of its own end zone. Sloan picked up another nine yards and a first down before racking up 16 yards rushing on an end-around. Pearson then got WKU into the red zone with a 29-yard catch.

WKU eventually settled for a 28-yard field goal attempt after failing to get the ball into the end zone. Munson knocked in his try, and WKU trailed 28-24 with 9:51 left in the game.

FAU running back James Charles got the Owls going with a 25-yard rush. He then picked up three more first downs for the Owls, moving FAU to the WKU 6 after a 16-yard rush.

The Owls eventually had to settle for a 24-yard field goal attempt from kicker Vladimir Rivas. The redshirt sophomore’s kick was blocked by cornerback Trae Meadows and recovered by safety Devon Key at the WKU 17. Key then returned it 39 yards to the FAU 44-yard line.

The first play of the ensuing WKU drive also ended up being the last — Storey threw his second interception of the game to Pierre, who returned the pick 30 yards to the FAU 41-yard line.

FAU was in kill clock mode, with Charles handling the rock for the Owls on the ground. Antoine picked up a big first down with a 10-yard reception and drained the clock even further.

Tronti picked up another first down for FAU after a WKU timeout. Tronti followed his run up with another rush, this time for a 22-yard touchdown. WKU trailed 35-24 with 2:10 left in the game.

The WKU offense could not muster a significant response to the Owls on its final possession, as Storey threw his third interception of the game to FAU safety Zyon Gilbert in the end zone.

FAU ran the clock out on its final possession, and the Hilltoppers dropped their second consecutive C-USA game by an 11-point margin.

Following the loss, WKU will head to Fayetteville, Arkansas, and conclude non-conference play against Power 5 opponent Arkansas (2-7, 0-6 SEC) next Saturday.

Storey, who transferred to WKU after spending 2018 as the Razorbacks’ starter, will lead the Hilltoppers against his former teammates in Donald W. Reynolds Razorback Stadium.

Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. on Nov. 9. The Senior Day game will be broadcast on SEC Network.

Reporter Alec Jessie can be reached at [email protected]. Follow Alec on Twitter at @Alec_Jessie.