Allen goes down early as Hilltoppers claim home opener

WKU running back Leon Allen (33) dodges a tackle during the first half of the Hilltoppers 41-38 win over Louisiana Tech Thursday at Houchens Industries – L.T. Smith Stadium.

Billy Rutledge

Thursday’s game against Louisiana Tech was a range of emotions for Hilltopper fans.

The contest saw the WKU football team lead by as many as 17 points, their deficit cut to three in the final seconds of the game and their star running back suffer a gruesome leg injury in the team’s home opener at Smith Stadium.

But they weathered the storm.

The Hilltoppers (2-0) hung on to defeat their second opponent of the season, Conference USA foe La. Tech, by a score of 41-38. The game marked a revitalization of the WKU offense and solid play by the special teams.

“We had a plan. We stuck to it, it worked for us early, and we made it happen in the second half,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said.

The headline going into the home opener was the exceptional play of the quarterbacks. WKU’s senior QB Brandon Doughty and La. Tech’s Jeff Driskel produced a shootout of an affair combining for 798 yards and three touchdowns.

Doughty, who finished with 441 yards and a TD pass, returned to 2014 form and jettisoned the Hilltoppers to an early 21-3 first half lead.

Doughty’s lone touchdown pass went to junior Taywan Taylor for 37-yards in the first quarter. Senior running back Leon Allen’s 28-yard Touchdown run and a 98-yard kickoff return for a touchdown by redshirt sophomore Kylen Towner gave WKU the early advantage.

A touchdown pass to Trent Taylor and TD run by the Bulldogs’ running back Kenneth Dixon cut the Hilltoppers lead to 27-24 at halftime. La. Tech wasn’t going away just yet as the two teams combined for 500 yards in the first half.

The story of the night besides the win is the status of WKU senior running back Leon Allen.

Allen went down with a leg injury early in the third quarter and did not return to the game. To that point, the leader had 81 rushing and 53 receiving yards to go along with a 28-yard touchdown run. No update has been given on the player, but Brohm expressed his lack of optimism in the post-game press conference.

After Allen’s injury in the third, redshirt freshman running back D’Andre Ferby stepped up for the Hilltoppers. He finished with 43 yards, a touchdown and an important two-point conversion in the fourth quarter.

“I think Ferby is a heck of a player,” Doughty said. “He is more than capable and he is ready.  I am praying for Leon, but if he isn’t good to go e are going to have to lean on Ferby.”

The Hilltoppers senior kicker Garrett Schwettman certainly contributed to the winning effort. He knocked down four field goals throughout the game including his longest, a 46-yard attempt in the third quarter. Another exceptional special teams effort belonged to the kick returner Towner. Besides his 98-yard touchdown return, he racked up a total of 169 return yards and gave the Hilltoppers exceptional field position throughout the night.

The Bulldogs made it interesting in the final quarter. Driskel found the end zone two separate times to cut the lead to three before the Hilltoppers recovered the final onside kick. Doughty led them on a seven play, 77 yard drive in the fourth to take more than 3 minutes off the clock when they needed it.

“Without question, I am really happy for our football team,” Brohm said. “That was a really good football team, and that was a big win for us.”

The win marked the first time the Hilltoppers have started 2-0 since 2005. The win also extends WKU’s win streak to seven-straight games, the sixth longest winning streak currently in the FBS. The Hilltoppers next game will be Sept. 19th at Indiana.