WKU rolls North Texas 45-7 behind senior performances

Senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor (2) runs into the endzone for a touchdown during WKU’ 45-7 victory over North Texas on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2016 at L.T. Smith Stadium. Taylor caught 6 passes for 166 yards and 3 touchdowns. Brendan O’Hern/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

WKU moved one step closer to a conference championship appearance with a 45-7 romp of the University of North Texas in the Hilltoppers’ home finale on Saturday.

It was senior day for 24 players on the Hill, and one of them made his impact felt from the very first snap.

Senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor ran a deep post route and hauled in a second-down pass around the 20-yard line, shook one defender and walked into the end zone to give the Hilltoppers an early 7-0 lead.

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On the first play of the next possession less than two minutes later, Taylor caught a long pass on the same route taking it in for another score, this time for 75 yards. 

“It’s everything that anybody dreams of,” Taylor said. “Just knowing how far I’ve come and the rest of the seniors and the opportunity that coach Brohm gave us from day one, it means everything to me. Being able to play in front of those fans and being able to accomplish everything that I’ve accomplished in front of those fans out there, it means a lot.”

At the end of the first quarter, the school’s all-time leader in catches, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns had four catches for 159 yards and two touchdowns.

Taylor finished what could have potentially been his last game in L.T. Smith Stadium with six catches for 166 yards and three touchdowns.

While Taylor seemed to be catching everything starting quarterback Mike White threw, he wasn’t the only one scoring touchdowns for the Hilltoppers.

Another pair of Hilltopper seniors set up the next score for White. After senior defensive lineman Omar Bryant fell on a loose ball from a strip sack of UNT quarterback Mason Fine, White found senior wide receiver Nicholas Norris in the end zone on a 33-yard strike.

Norris eclipsed 1,000 yards receiving for the season on his five catches for 90 yards on Saturday.

“They’re an outstanding duo of receivers,” Brohm said of Taylor and Norris. “They make it hard on the defense. They understand that whether we win or lose it’s going to ride on their shoulders. I’m just very proud of their accomplishments that they’ve had in their career and throughout the year and they’re two guys that we’ll severely miss.”

With just 27 seconds left in the first half, Ace Wales took a three-yard carry across the goal line for the fourth and final first-half touchdown scored by a senior. Wales finished the game with 121 yards, his third consecutive 100-yard rushing performance.

The Hilltoppers took a 31-0 lead into the half having out-gained UNT 351-55 in total yards. WKU—fifth in the nation in total yards—finished the game with 543 against the Mean Green defense.

“It’s very satisfying as a coach when your players show up with the mindset that they know what has to happen in order to win,” Brohm said. “We made some big plays on offense.” 

On the other side of the ball, the Hilltopper defense played arguably its most complete game of the season, delivering a near shutout and holding a UNT team that averages 347 total yards to just 232.

The Hilltopper defense came into the contest ranked as the 11th best rush defense in the nation and with the exception of a 71-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, held the Mean Green rushing attack in check.

WKU limited UNT to just seven first downs and 115 yards on the ground, 30 less than the 145 yards the Mean Green are averaging on the season.

“Throughout the whole season, everybody has been playing gaps and that’s been our main focus on stopping the run,” graduate transfer defensive lineman Nick Dawson-Brents said.

Dawson-Brents, a graduate transfer from Louisville, finished the game with three tackles and one tackle for loss and said he appreciates his short time at WKU.

“Even though at Louisville we won a lot, it’s still good to have people that are backing you up the whole time and tapping the hat,” Dawson-Brents said. “Everything is just so valuable to us and I feel like we everybody should cherish this moment.”

For an offense that averages six touchdowns per game, it was only fitting that all of the Hilltoppers’ scores on Saturday came from seniors. 

“We’re really happy and proud of seniors,” Brohm said. “They really laid the foundation and they’ve worked their tails off. We’ve got some fourth year guys, some three year guys some two year guys and some one year guys. But all of them have done an outstanding job this year.”