Tops roll to 59-24 victory over ODU

Junior wide receiver Nacarius Fant (1) runs down field during WKU’s 59-24 win over ODU on Saturday, Oct. 22, in Smith Stadium. Fant contributed 31 yards in three catches. Brendan O’Hern/HERALD

Evan Heichelbech

With another pivotal conference matchup on its plate after travelling to Middle Tennessee State University the week prior, the WKU football team took care of business with a 59-24 homecoming victory over Old Dominion University on Saturday.

“Without question, it was a great night for our football team,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “Our guys really stepped up, came ready to play and came out in the first half and executed at a high level at all facets of the game.”

The win puts the Hilltoppers in a tie for first place in the Conference USA East division with Florida International University.

Things were never realistically in reach for the Monarchs, as the WKU point barrage started immediately after the opening kick.

The Toppers’ opening drive lasted all of one minute and 10 seconds as redshirt senior running back Anthony “Ace” Wales took a handoff on the third play of the game 44 yards for a touchdown.

WKU got the ball back just one minute and 32 seconds later after an Old Dominion three-and-out, and redshirt junior quarterback Mike White found senior wide receiver Taywan Taylor in the end zone for the first of his three receiving touchdowns of the night.

Taylor finished the game with 10 catches for 123 yards to go with his three scores.

“Coach Brohm preaches to us before the game to come out locked in, focused and with great energy,” Taylor said. “We just want to come out and strike first and strike early.”

Three ODU three-and-outs and a little more than six minutes of game time later, Taylor caught a 14-yard strike from White to make the score 28-0, advantage Toppers.

The touchdown was set up by a 44-yard punt return from junior wide receiver Nacarius Fant who took the ball all the way down to the ODU 16-yard line.

Fant had another big return toward the end of the second quarter when he took a kickoff 57 yards to the ODU 25-yard line after faking a handoff to fellow return man redshirt junior Kylen Towner.

Fant suffered an ankle injury on the play. Brohm said it would be too early to tell the extent of the injury.

“It didn’t look too good after the game,” Brohm said. “Obviously we’d love to get him back. He’s tremendous on special teams and he’s probably the football player with the best knowledge of anybody.”

The momentum was in WKU’s favor from the start. The Toppers scored a touchdown on their first five drives of the game while ODU brought out the punt team after its first five possessions.

A pair of 53-yard touchdown passes from ODU quarterback David Washington were the Monarchs’ only scoring plays of the first half, as they headed into the locker room trailing by a score of 52-14.

WKU out-gained ODU 459 to 200 in total yards after one half of play, and 624 to 330 for the game.

“I for sure thought we were locked in,” Brohm said. “I think all of our guys want to do well, like to be motivated and want to find a way to improve … We want to try to challenge ourselves every week to raise our level. Old Dominion was 4-2 overall and we had to win the game.

White followed up the 44-43 shootout in Murfreesboro with a 378-yard, four-touchdown performance on 28 of 32 passing.

“I think in the first half, his play was extremely good,” Brohm said. “I think he played very well and was into it.”

White was able to spread the ball around to his receivers all evening long. Senior wide receiver Nicholas Norris caught six of his passes, gaining 90 yards and scoring once in the process.

Norris wasn’t the only one to get in on the offensive downpour. Wales gained 157 yards on just 15 rushes and had two touchdowns to go with it.

“I showed a lot of stuff that I normally don’t do,” Wales said. “At this point I’m just trying to do whatever it takes to win. I want a conference championship and all of my teammates want a conference championship.”

The scoring slowed down in the second half for the Toppers, and ODU’s offense came out with a nine-play, 77-yard drive capped off by an eight-yard touchdown run.

On the first WKU possession, White’s screen pass to Taylor was picked off and returned to the Topper six-yard line. The Monarchs settled for a field goal three plays later, making the score 52-24 halfway through the third quarter.

The next time WKU got the ball, a brawl broke out between both teams and a majority of the WKU sideline. ODU sophomore defensive back Jamshyer McUmber was ejected as a result of the skirmish, and every player from both teams received offsetting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties.

“It’s a conference game and both teams are going for a conference championship,” Wales said. “Tempers got flared and it’s just part of football.”

On Monday, C-USA announced that Wales and ODU’s Christian Bynum would each be suspended for the first half of their team’s next games. The conference also reprimanded four other players including WKU’s Towner and Norris.

Freshman running back Marquez Trigg’s one-yard touchdown run was the final score of the game with 12:39 left in the fourth quarter.

With the win, WKU improves its record to 5-3 and is in total control of its own destiny moving forward.

“We always want to win a conference championship, and now we know that we’re in the driver’s seat,” Wales said. “We’re in control of our own destiny and we know we just have to win so we go out there each and every day and go hard.”

The Toppers will continue conference play on Saturday when they travel to Florida Atlantic University. Kickoff is set for 2:30 p.m. in Boca Raton, Florida.

Reporter Evan Heichelbech can be reached at 270-745-6291 and [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter at @evanheich.