Pratt: WKU’s good fortune on Feix Field is more than luck can offer

WKU wide receiver Willie McNeal eyes a deflected pass during the first half of Saturday’s game at Houchens-Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky. McNeal successfully caught the ball before running for a touchdown. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Elliott Pratt

I don’t believe in coincidences.

I truly believe that things happen for a reason and depending on your personal belief in the supernatural, you either whole-heartedly agree with me or think I’m a psychotic lunatic.

Some call it ‘being lucky’ when the chips fall their way and others believe there’s a purpose in the madness that we can’t often quite point out.

The beauty of sports is that these moments occur more often than not, which puts me in the category of those who may be labeled a lunatic.

Western Kentucky’s 45-7 thumping of Texas San Antonio marked the fourth straight win at home and the third-straight overall. It now places them in position for the fourth-straight season to earn a bowl game.

It all started when they put up outrageous numbers on Oct. 24 against Old Dominion with a 66-51 win for their first Conference USA victory. That contest marked the first game played at Smith Stadium since the death of legendary Hilltopper player and coach, Jimmy Feix, who wore No. 66 as a player.

Feix passed away at the age of 83 on Oct. 5, a day after WKU blew a 13-point lead to lose 42-39 to UAB.

Since then, WKU hasn’t lost on Feix Field and they’ve had a few chips fall their way a few times that some would just call being lucky.

One of the biggest beneficiaries has been senior wide receiver Willie McNeal. He caught a crucial Hail Mary pass as the first half clock expired last week against Army when Jared Dangerfield used his 6-foot-3-inch frame to jump and tip the ball right to McNeal for the score.

Today, it was he and Bennett Okotcha one-on-one down the middle of field when Doughty threw it deep. Okotcha jumped and tipped the ball right into McNeal’s hands in the way Josh Harvey-Clemons of Georgia tipped a pass right into Auburn’s Ricardo Louis’ hands for a touchdown in that unforgettable moment last season.

Like Auburn, WKU is having a bit of ‘luck’ themselves.

“(Sophomore wide receiver Nicholas Norris) was picking on me on the sidelines telling me how I’m always getting the lucky catches because of the Hail Mary from last weekend and then that one,” McNeal said. “I don’t know what it is, it might be the football gods. I’m not going to question it. If it keeps happening like that I’ll take them.”

Enter WKU’s defense: a unit known throughout the season for giving up more yards and points than even its own offense can keep up with.

That trend began to turn when Juwan Gardner returned an interception 96-yards for a touchdown against Old Dominion. Then there’s that other guy, Wonderful Terry. His 90-yard pick-six against UTEP gave WKU the lead and the win.

I can live with someone getting lucky once. But when it becomes a trend, there’s something different in the water at Smith Stadium.

I hope by now you can see the point here.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that WKU scored 66 points the first game since Feix passed away and I don’t think it’s coincidence that the Hilltoppers have had things go their way that in plays that leave your jaw on the floor.

“It’s good to have luck,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “Obviously we had a little luck on those couple of plays. That’s what happens. We try to take our shots, we try to hit some shots down the field, the ball has bounced our way the last couple games which is great to see.”

It’s not like WKU is getting ‘lucky’ by the sheer definition of luck itself. The Hilltoppers’ playoff mentality in recent weeks leading up to today has been the biggest influences in this season shift as well.

“I think you put yourself in position to make those plays,” Brohm said. “You’re going to get some of those and we’ve definitely had luck the last two weeks on that. And they were big plays for us that definitely changed the momentum of the game.”

More like it’s changed the momentum of the season.

No matter what happens next week against undefeated Marshall, that momentum shift has placed the Hilltoppers in a better position for a bowl game than any other year at this same spot in the Sun Belt Conference.

Whether you believe this team has run into good terms with luck or a supernatural intervention the last two weeks, whatever it is, it’s turned WKU’s season around.