WKU rolls to fourth straight win, defeats FIU 49-21

Freshman running back Quinton Baker (3) runs the ball for a touchdown against FIU on Saturday, Nov. 5, 2016, at Smith Stadium.

Evan Heichelbech

WKU stretched its C-USA East Division lead to one and a half games with a 49-21 win over Florida International University in L.T. Smith Stadium Saturday.

The Hilltopper’s offense stayed red-hot, ripping FIU for 509 total yards of offense and were able to build a quick lead behind 35 first-half points.

“That’s kind of been what we’ve been good at in the last couple years,” Brohm said. “It’s huge when you can build an early lead for sure.”

The Hilltoppers (7-3, 5-1 C-USA) scored on five of their six first-half possessions and opened the game with a pair of 76-yard scoring drives capped off by rushing touchdowns from freshman running back Quinton Baker and redshirt senior running back Anthony “Ace” Wales.

Led by redshirt junior quarterback Mike White’s 216 first-half yards, the WKU offense produced a couple of highlight-reel plays in the first half from senior wide receivers Nicholas Norris and Taywan Taylor.

With about five minutes left in the first quarter, Brohm dialed up a White to Norris to Nacarius Fant to White and then back to Norris triple-screen pass that Norris took 33 yards to the FIU seven-yard line.

“We ran it last year quite a bit and it was good for us,” Brohm said of the play. “Believe it or not, people have been playing our trick plays and it’s been harder for them to work this year so we held this one in our pocket for a while. It was good to see us finally hit a trick play this year.”

The next time White got the ball back in his hands, he found Taylor in the end zone for a 41-yard touchdown on the first play of the second quarter. The touchdown catch was one of Taylor’s five receptions for 97 yards.

On the next FIU possession, Golden Panthers quarterback Maurice Alexander’s pass was tipped and intercepted by WKU junior defensive back Leverick Johnson who then returned it 61 yards for a touchdown to make the score 28-7, Hilltoppers.

The pick-six was the first interception return for a touchdown of the season for WKU.

“When I saw the ball, I just undercut it because it seemed like it was in the air for a long time,” Johnson said. “I just tapped it up and I saw him fall out of the corner of my eye. I was looking to see who was trying to catch me and no one was except by the goal line.”

Johnson’s interception kick-started a turnover frenzy as the two teams traded turnovers back-and-forth on four consecutive drives in the second quarter until the Hilltoppers regained control after a Derik Overstreet interception of Alexander in the end zone.

WKU milked the remaining 3:42 in the half and drove 80 yards ending with a five-yard Wales touchdown run that left just 38 seconds on the clock.

“We try to score every possession,” Wales said. “We don’t want no field goals. We want touchdowns. We go out each and every week and each and every day in practice and try to score.”

The Hilltoppers cruised in the second half, using the 28-point halftime cushion to put the Panthers away for good.

On the first play of the third quarter, Wales ripped off a 59-yard touchdown. The score was Wales’ third of the game and 17th of the season.

He would later run in one more touchdown in the second half to finish with four for the game as a part of his 111 yards.

WKU has yet to have its bye week, which is scheduled for the week before the Hilltoppers’ last regular season game at Marshall.

“I feel like we’re kind of used to it,” Wales said. “I’ve never really noticed us having bye weeks. I mean, this is what we came here for – to play. If anything we wish we could have bye weeks in practice. Saturday’s are what we live for.”

On the other side of the ball, the Hilltopper defense has made improvement as of late, allowing just 24 points in the last two games after struggling to get stops earlier in the season.

“It’s big any time you can get the ball back to the offense because we feel like they can score on any drive,” junior defensive lineman Derik Overstreet said. “We just enjoy getting the ball back to them so that they can do what they do.”

The Hilltopper offense and defense will look to continue rolling and extend the winning streak to five games next week when the University of North Texas comes to Bowling Green for a 2:30 p.m. contest in L.T. Smith Stadium.