Toppers topple Owls in homecoming affair

WKU’s quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) celebrates catching a touchdown pass on a trick play during the Hilltoppers’ 35-19 win over Florida Atlantic University on Saturday at Smith Stadium.

Billy Rutledge

The WKU Football team came away with a 35-19 victory Saturday at L.T. Smith Stadium in a game that remained highly contested through three quarters.  

The win marked the ninth-straight Conference USA victory for the Hilltoppers (8-2, 6-0) and eighth straight at home.

Under Head Coach Jeff Brohm, the Hilltoppers are now 9-1 at home.

“We haven’t really played a full, complete four quarter game yet and having to grind it out in the second half, I thought that was good for us,” quarterback Brandon Doughty said. “We’re trying to better ourselves and become a better second half team, that’s where we struggled last season.”

FAU kept it close by controlling the clock and keeping the WKU offense off the field. The Owls won the time of possession battle 31:49 to 28:20 and led the Hilltoppers early, marking the first time WKU had trailed at home this season.

Doughty was 24 of 29 for 273 yards and five total touchdowns—scoring his first career receiving touchdown on a double-reverse pass by sophomore receiver Nacarius Fant.

Doughty threw touchdowns to three different receivers—two to junior receiver Taywan Taylor and one each to seniors receiver Antwane Grant and tight end Tim Gorski.

Running backs junior Anthony Wales and freshman D’Andre Ferby didn’t find the end zone but still had a successful outings, rushing for a combined 224 yards with an average of 7.1 yards per rush.

Taylor finished with 87 yards, two touchdowns and a pair of new WKU records. Taylor broke the record of the most receiving touchdowns in a single-season, passing the previous mark of 11 and is now only the second 1,000-yard receiver in a season in program history joining Porter Williams in 1973.

“He’s a playmaker. He has that second gear when the ball is in the air and many guys don’t have that,” Brohm said of Taylor after the game. “He finds a way to make the hard catch…He’s explosive, strong, he’s a competitor, likes the game of football and is able to make big plays for us.”

While the Hilltoppers first drive of the game stalled just past midfield, the Owls came out of the gates fast. FAU covered 85 yards on 15 plays and found the end zone on a 19-yard touchdown pass from redshirt senior quarterback Jaquez Johnson to senior receiver Jenson Stoshak with 6:41 remaining in the 1st quarter.

The first quarter ended with the Owls leading 7-0, and marked only the third time the Hilltoppers were held scoreless in the first quarter, the other two being against Vanderbilt and LSU.

The Hilltoppers scored on a four-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to Taylor just moments into the second quarter to tie the game at 7.

WKU’s drive covered 16 plays and 75 yards in 7:22, the longest touchdown drive on the season for the Hilltoppers.

With the game tied, FAU continued their success on offense. They executed a 14 play, 61-yard drive that produced three points after being kept out of the endzone by a Hilltopper goal-line stand.

FAU led 10-7 with 8:22 remaining in the half when the Hilltoppers responded quickly.

After a good return by redshirt sophomore Kylen Towner, Doughty found Taylor once again, this time a 44-yard touchdown bomb for their second connection of the game. The Hilltoppers took their first lead of the game at 14-10 with 7:21 remaining in the first half.

FAU was able to score on its next drive, a 21-yard attempt by junior Greg Joseph—his second of the game.

WKU had a chance to score before halftime but a timely interception of Doughty by senior defensive back Cre’von LeBlanc at the FAU 6-yard line stalled the drive and sent the two teams in the locker room for halftime

“In the first half, they were taking advantage of busted assignments. We were playing hard, but we weren’t playing how coach wanted us to,” senior linebacker Dejon Brown said. “In the second half, our coaches got us back to the fundamentals, told us to make our plays, make our tackles and when the play comes to you, just make the tackle, that’s all you have to do.”

Out of halftime, FAU attempted a 47-yard field goal but could not convert.

WKU took advantage scoring on the next drive, an 18-yard strike from Doughty to senior tight end Tim Gorski for the tight end’s third career touchdown. Midway through the third quarter, the Hilltoppers had extended their lead to 21-13.

But, FAU wasn’t done fighting. The following drive the Owls used 14 plays to march 74 yards and score on 4th and goal from the two-yard line.

Johnson found freshman receiver Ralph Leonard for his second touchdown of the game, but FAU failed to convert the two-point conversion, and the score was left at 21-19.

The next possession concluded with Fant’s double-reverse pass to Doughty for the score, extending the Hilltoppers lead to 28-19 right at the end of the third quarter.

The WKU defense held strong in the fourth, not allowing a point while the Hilltopper offense was able to work the clock and score one final time, a three yard TD pass from Doughty to senior receiver Antwane Grant.

The fifth total touchdown for Doughty sealed the win for the Hilltoppers with a final score of 35-19.

WKU’s bye week is next weekend, which puts the Hilltoppers’ next game at FIU on November 21st.

After the game, Brohm stressed the importance of the upcoming break and what the team needed to do moving forward.

“I think (the bye week) is huge. I think I need a rest, our coaches need a rest, our players need to take advantage of it to get some of our guys that are nicked up healthy and get our minds mentally fresh to make this last run towards trying to win a championship,” Brohm said. “It’s what our gaol has been from day one, we don’t talk about it a lot—we have to continue to work hard, do the small things, stay together and play unselfish.”