Hilltoppers bury Miners for first C-USA win

WKU running back D’Andre Ferby (32) celebrates a touchdown in the first quarter during the football game between UTEP and WKU at Houchens-Smith Stadium on Nov. 17. The Hilltoppers won 40-16. 

Matt Stahl

The WKU football team finally struck gold against a 1-9 Texas-El Paso team, as the Hilltoppers beat the Miners 40-16 to send the seniors off with a win on senior night.

WKU (2-9) broke the team’s Football Bowl Subdivision-era record for interceptions in a game with five picks. They all came in the first half. UTEP starting quarterback Kai Locksley was 1 for 9 through the air, good for just 2 passing yards. He threw 3 interceptions before being pulled for Brandon Jones. 

“Very, very happy for this senior class and happy for these players,” head coach Mike Sanford said after the game. “As a theme this whole week—starting back on Sunday—was that this last game here at Houchens-Smith Stadium would be all for these players, all for these seniors and for nobody else.”

The Hilltoppers started off the game strong with a 75-yard drive down the field, capped off by a 17-yard touchdown pass from redshirt sophomore quarterback Steven Duncan to redshirt junior wide receiver Quin Jernighan on 4th down. Redshirt senior kicker Ryan Nuss’ extra point was blocked, so the Hilltoppers led 6-0.

After an interception on the ensuing UTEP drive by sophomore cornerback Roger Cray, the Hilltoppers scored again, this time on a 1-yard run by redshirt senior D’Andre Ferby. Redshirt junior kicker Alex Rinella made the extra point and WKU took a 13-0 lead.

WKU continued its first quarter assault the next drive, after another interception by senior safety Drell Greene. Duncan hit redshirt junior Lucky Jackson on a 2-yard strike for another touchdown.

On the ensuing drive, despite a change at quarterback, the Miners were once again unable to keep the ball away from the WKU defense, with redshirt junior nickelback Ta’Corian Darden coming up with an interception. The Hilltoppers followed the pick with another touchdown, this one a 7-yard run by Ferby.

“It’s long overdue man,” Ferby said of the win. “We’ve put in a lot of work, countless hours, a lot of work. This game right here, it just speaks to the work we put in.”

The Hilltoppers ended the first quarter with their fourth interception of the day, this one by redshirt sophomore safety Devon Key. WKU converted the pick into a Rinella field goal to take a 30-0 lead in the second quarter.

Following another Rinella field goal, WKU got its fifth interception of the day, which redshirt sophomore nickelback Gaej Walker took to the house to make it 40-0, a score that held to the halftime break.

“All year we’ve put a lot of emphasis on getting our hands on the ball,” redshirt senior cornerback DeAndre Farris said. “And just scoring touchdowns, so it was great to just go out and get the ball back to our offense when they were hot.”

To start the second half, the Miners finally got on track offensively, marching the ball down the field for a touchdown and a two-point conversion.

Following several ineffective drives by both teams, UTEP struck again in the fourth quarter, this time on an 88-yard pass from Jones to senior wide receiver Brandon Lucero. The Miners once again converted the two-point conversion to make the score 40-16.

Despite the Miners threatening again later in the fourth quarter, neither team was able to score again and the Hilltoppers held on to win their second game of the season.

“It was emotional,” Sanford said of the mood in the locker room. “They were happy and they should be. Winning games in college football is never an easy thing and you’ll never take that for granted.”

The Hilltoppers, who improved to 2-9 on the season, will be back in action next Saturday at Louisiana Tech.

Reporter Matt Stahl can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected] Follow him on Twitter at @mattstahl97.