Freshmen faces shine in Ball State victory

WKU running back Jakairi Moses (29) carries the ball during the Hilltopers’ 33-21 win against Ball State on Saturday at L.T. Smith Stadium.

Sam Porter

After a 1-2 start with several key players banged up, the door opened up for some younger Hilltoppers to make a name for themselves during Saturday’s 33-21 win over Ball State. In the win, freshmen and redshirt freshmen accounted for 204 of WKU’s 371 yards of total offense.

“Whenever you get young guys to come in and produce and produce often is huge,” redshirt senior quarterback Mike White said. “Anytime the defense has to worry about one more guy it just puts even more pressure on them.”

With redshirt junior running back D’Andre Ferby out and sophomore running back Quinton Baker limited to just one carry, true freshman running back Jakairi Moses stepped forward in a major way. Although redshirt junior running back Marquez Trigg got the start, Moses stole the show, leading WKU with 56 rushing yards on 12 carries. His 4.6 yards per carry were the most by WKU’s leading rusher in a single game this season. Last week against Louisiana Tech, Moses took his first career carry 19 yards down the left sideline for a touchdown.

“When the lights come on and it’s time to go, he’s something else to see,” Sanford said about Moses. “There’s aspects of his game that remind me of Bobby Rainey. The thing that is very unique about Jakairi is his breakaway speed. He can really hit a crease. He was close to busting a few open. He’s an electrifying player and our players feed off his energy.”

During WKU’s final game-winning drive against Ball State, the first and final play involved Moses. White found Moses for an 11-yard gain on the opening play. On first and 10 on the Ball State 15, White found Moses again for a 10-yard gain to set up first and goal at the 5-yard line. Finally, Moses took a handoff around the left side for a touchdown to give WKU the lead. On top of his 56 rushing yards, Moses caught four passes for 48 yards to account for 104 total yards and a touchdown on the night.

“When the coaches recruited me, they told me I would play,” Moses said. “They told me to be ready. We needed a play, so I stepped up and made a play.”

After redshirting as a freshman, wide receiver Xavier Lane has emerged as a big target for redshirt senior quarterback Mike White. For the second game in a row, Lane led WKU in receiving with 86 yards, all of which came in the first half. Lane sat out the season opener due to suspension, then caught one pass for 17 yards in WKU’s Week 2 loss to Illinois. Against LA Tech, Lane and redshirt senior tight end Deon Yelder both led WKU with 54 total yards. At 6-4, Lane is the only receiver that plays listed at 6-2 or higher, giving White a big target at receiver position.

“Xavier had some big time catches,” White said. “After last week, he really challenged himself to go out there and be that big target. He made some huge catches, and it really shows because of the work he’s put in.”

Another freshman, tight end Kyle Fourtenbary, caught two passes for 14 yards. Primarily used as a blocking tight end, White has found Fourtenbary five times for 36 yards in 2017, providing opportunities for a change of pace in the passing game.

The bye week will give time for players like Ferby and Baker to heal up, but expect Moses, Lane and Fourtenbary to continue to contribute in their first seasons on the Hill. WKU will travel to El Paso, Texas, next Saturday to take on Texas El-Paso, who is currently 0-4 (0-1 C-USA).

Reporter Sam Porter can be reached at 270-799-8247 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @SammyP14.