Pedal to the Metal | WKU’s offense leads to victory over rival

WKU’s running back Anthony Wales (20) hurdles a Middle Tennessee defender during the Hilltoppers’ 58-28 win Saturday at Houchens Industries – L.T. Smith Stadium.

Billy Rutledge

It had been 26 years since the WKU football team defeated Middle Tennessee State University in Bowling Green. 

That streak ended Saturday when the Hilltoppers (5-1, 3-0) dominated their rival from the very beginning, defeating the Blue Raiders 58-28 after scoring 52 first-half points. The win improved the Hilltoppers’ conference record to 3-0 for the first time in the FBS era, and their 5-1 season record is the best start since 2012. 

“This win feels good, I’m not going to lie, it’s a very rewarding victory,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “We felt MTSU is a very good football team and we still think they are. For our guys to come out in the first half and play like that, I couldn’t be any happier or prouder of them.”

The game featured video game-like numbers for several Hilltopper players. Senior quarterback Brandon Doughty threw all five of his touchdown passes in the first half and finished with 359 yards. Junior receiver Taywan Taylor continued statistically being one of the best receivers in college football, finishing with six catches for 120 yards and three touchdowns. Fellow junior Nicholas Norris tallied six catches for 148 yards and a touchdown. 

The game marked the 65th meeting between the two schools. The all-time series record is now at 34-30-1 in favor of the Blue Raiders. After suffering a 50-47 triple overtime defeat to MTSU last season, WKU players expressed after the game how it was nice to be on the other end.

“It’s a huge win, we really worked hard this week and we practiced pissed off again,” Doughty said. “Anytime you can get a rivalry win like that, at home, that’s our goal to protect the Houch.”

The Hilltoppers found success on their opening drive of the game. After Doughty connected with Norris for a 59-yard screen pass, freshman running back D’Andre Ferby found the end zone for the first score of the day, a six yard touchdown rush to put the Hilltoppers up 7-0.

After forcing a quick punt, the second drive ended in points as well as Doughty found senior tight end Tyler Higbee on a 43-yard touchdown reception on a pass over the middle.

The scoring in the first period wasn’t over yet as Doughty found Norris twice on the drive. The first, a 32-yard reception into the redzone and the very next play, a 10-yard touchdown reception. The Hilltoppers took a 21-0 lead with only six minutes having ticked off the clock.

The Blue Raiders responded with a nine play, 82-yard drive that ended in a 28-yard Jeremiah Bryson rushing touchdown, MTSU’s first points of the game and one of four touchdowns on the day.

The final touchdown of the quarter came from a 28-yard strike from Doughty to junior receiver Taywan Taylor. The third passing touchdown in the first quarter from Doughty put the Hilltoppers up 28-7.

To start the second quarter, Doughty found Taylor for the second time of the day, this time a nine yard touchdown reception to give the senior his fourth scoring touchdown. After taking a 35-7 lead, the only other scoring by the Blue Raiders in the half occurred when MTSU freshman QB Brent Stockstill found Richie James on a 30-yard TD reception.

WKU reached into its playbook and immediately responded with a 69-yard TD connection on a wide receiver pass. Sophomore Nacarius Fant caught a screen and threw the ball to Taylor for his third touchdown of the day and to put the Hilltoppers up 42-14. 

After another three-and-out, Brohm kept his foot on the gas as Doughty connected with senior Jared Dangerfield for a five yard TD reception. The Hilltoppers then recovered an onside kick on the next play, which eventually led to a 31- yard field goal by senior kicker Garrett Schwettman that put the Hilltoppers up at the half 52-14.

“When you get out to an early lead, it helps everybody,” Brohm said. “We try to be aggressive early on, we try to take shots. We have playmakers on offense that have gotten it done, we are protecting well, trying to be creative and have fun with it. When we get up with a lead, it helps everybody. Without question that’s important for us.” 

MTSU was able to find the endzone twice in the second half. Stocksill threw for 296 yards and three touchdowns in the game while Blue Raider receiver Richie James finished with seven catches for 141 yards and two touchdowns.

Schwettman was able to add to his scoring total with a 35-yard field goal late in the third quarter. He found the uprights once more in the fourth quarter with a 30-yard strike, his third field goal of the game.

Redshirt junior Anthony “Ace” Wales returned to 2014 form against MTSU. Coming back from a hamstring injury that held him out of the first four games of the season, he tallied career highs in carries (19) and totaled over 100 rushing yards for the second time in his career on Saturday.

The Hilltoppers next play North Texas on October 15th in Denton, Texas. It will be the first of three consecutive away games.