2-0 | Western Kentucky football undefeated through two for first time since 2005

WKU offensive lineman Max Halpin (70) prepares to snap the ball to quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) during the Hilltoppers 41-38 win over Louisiana Tech Thursday at Houchens Industries – L.T. Smith Stadium.

Billy Rutledge

The week leading up to WKU football’s home opener, junior safety Marcus Ward called Louisiana Tech “the best team we will play all year.” The Hilltoppers certainly took to that mentality when they played their first conference opponent of 2015. 

Thursday’s game against the Bulldogs stirred a range of emotions in Hilltopper fans. 

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

But the Hilltoppers showed maturity through the adversity.

WKU (2-0) hung on to defeat its 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.

“That’s a really good football team; they totally kicked our tail last year,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “For our guys to study hard, work hard, believe in themselves, take the field with confidence, play with swagger, fight back and forth the entire game and find a way to win once again in dramatic fashion is a true testament to our players.”

The headline going into the home opener was the exceptional play of the quarterbacks. WKU’s senior quarterback 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 touchdown pass, returned to 2014 form and jettisoned the Hilltoppers to an early 21-3 first-half lead.

“Our coaching staff worked extremely hard to find ways to beat this football team,” Brohm said. “[La. Tech] is a really good football team, and we are very proud of this victory and I couldn’t be happier for our football team and the effort they put forth.” 

Doughty’s lone touchdown pass went to junior Taywan Taylor for 37 yards in the first quarter. 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 touchdown 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.

Besides the win, the story of the night was the status of Leon Allen.

Allen went down with a knee 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. 

Brohm released a statement on Friday saying Allen would miss the remainder of his senior season. 

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.

“Whenever you can beat a team from the West [Division] who won it last year, it’s definitely important,” Doughty said. “We can’t make it more than what it is. It’s a huge win for us and we can enjoy tonight, but we have to focus on Indiana tomorrow.” 

The Hilltoppers’ senior kicker Garrett Schwettman 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 effort belonged to the kick returner  Kylen 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 three 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 fourth longest winning streak currently in the FBS. The Hilltoppers’ next game will be Sept. 19 at Indiana.