Hilltoppers make history with 67-66 overtime win at No. 19 Marshall

WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) pumps his fist with teammate Willie McNeal (10) after the Hilltoppers upset No. 19 Marshall in Huntington, West Virginia, with an overtime victory, 67-66. Doughty connected with McNeal on a two-point conversion try to win the game. Nick Wagner/HERALD

Kyle Williams

HUNTINGTON, W. Va. — For the majority of the season, doubt has been placed upon the shoulders of the WKU football team.

After a 59-10 loss at Louisiana Tech on Nov. 1, that doubt was as apparent as ever with WKU holding a 3-5 record; but since then, the Hilltoppers have belted out four-straight wins, capped off by a nail-biting 67-66 overtime victory at No. 19 Marshall on Friday — marking the Hilltoppers’ first win over a ranked FBS opponent.

The win also caps the team’s “championship” run that began after the loss at LA Tech. Now, WKU (7-5, 4-4 Conference USA) has solidified its chance at the real thing — a bowl game.

“To fight back from where we were, to experience some of the losses we’ve experienced, to find a way to get better and to keep working at it, and then to reel off four in a row says a lot,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “We called this our championship game — it was. I told them in there, ‘Hey, now you get to advance again.’”

The Hilltoppers sealed their historic win over the Thundering Herd in dramatic fashion, as Brohm and company got within a point in overtime — their only deficit of the game — and opted to go for two rather than kicking the extra point and sending the game to a second overtime.

However, as the team has shown throughout its four-game win streak, there was no doubt. The Hilltoppers ran the exact same late-game play they ran in last season’s finale — a 34-31 win over Arkansas State — with the same personnel, Doughty and redshirt senior receiver Willie McNeal.

Turns out, the result was the same, too. Doughty took the snap, rolled to the right and found a wide-open McNeal for the game-winning conversion.

“We had no doubt,” Doughty said. “We had some confidence going into it. We thought coach was going to call the right play. I knew right when we scored, he was going to call it. It was a blessing. God’s done so many things in my life, and I can’t thank him enough.”

According to McNeal, Doughty had the scenario playing in his head the whole way.

“Doughty was telling us last night that this game is going to be a game that we’re going to talk about for the rest of our lives,” McNeal said. “We’re going to come back Homecoming, 10 years later, and we’re going to talk about, ‘Hey, you remember when we played Marshall when they were undefeated, and we came down and beat them?’”

Doughty was correct, and his performance emulated that. The redshirt senior threw for 491 yards and eight touchdowns — this season’s FBS-high for touchdowns thrown in a single game.

Doughty also became the Hilltoppers’ all-time career touchdown pass leader with 58, surpassing Kawaun Jakes’ previous total of 51.

He connected with nine different receivers, including sophomore receiver Taywan Taylor and junior receiver Jared Dangerfield, who tallied 122 and 117 yards, respectively, and combined for three touchdowns.

Redshirt junior tight end Tyler Higbee added career-highs of six receptions, 99 yards and three touchdowns.

Junior running back Leon Allen had an impressive outing on the ground with 33 carries for 237 yards and one touchdown. He also hauled in five receptions for 51 yards and a score.

The Hilltoppers totaled a season-high 738 total yards and were 7-of-8 in the red zone. WKU added a season-high 28 points off turnovers behind redshirt sophomore safety Branden Leston’s three interceptions.

The 133 combined points marks the most in a single C-USA game, and the 15 combined touchdowns thrown by Doughty and senior quarterback Rakeem Cato — eight and seven, respectively — is the highest combined total in FBS single-game history.

For the second time in three years, the Hilltoppers have found themselves in prime position to earn a bowl bid and will learn their fate on Sunday, Dec. 7 on ESPN’s bowl selection program.

The Hilltoppers’ four-game playoff streak has come to a close, and without a doubt, they’ve won their “championship”. Now, it’s on to the next one.

“We get one extra,” Higbee said. “We’re not done yet.”