WKU outlasts UTEP 35-27, secures first Homecoming win in three years

WKU junior Jared Dangerfield catches a long pass for a first down against UTEP. WKU won 35-27 against UTEP. Jeff Brown/HERALD

Kyle Williams

WKU football Head Coach Jeff Brohm said after Thursday’s practice that he wanted the team to enter Saturday’s Homecoming matchup with a playoff mentality, and the Hilltoppers responded.

WKU (4-5, 2-4 Conference USA) used 21 unanswered second-half points and limited the Miners (5-4, 3-2 C-USA) to just seven points in the second half en route to a 35-27 victory.

The win marked the first Homecoming win for the Hilltoppers since 2011.

“This one was great because it was a complete team win,” Brohm said. “It wasn’t offense here, and this and that. It was a complete team win. We needed the defense to step up – they did. We needed special teams, after the one kickoff return, to step up and play better – they did. We needed the offense to respond after we had a couple three-and-outs versus all the blitzes they were showing us early on, and they did. …Very proud of them.”

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, who tossed four interceptions a week ago at Louisiana Tech, completed 23 of his 24 pass attempts for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Doughty now boasts totals of 1,583 yards, 16 touchdowns and zero interceptions in four home games this season.

Doughty also became the program’s single-season completions leader in the second quarter of the win.

Junior running back Leon Allen tallied 51 rushing yards on 14 carries for a touchdown and added eight receptions for 88 yards and a score.

Redshirt senior Joel German hauled in three receptions for 92 yards and a touchdown while redshirt senior Willie McNeal added five catches for 41 yards and a touchdown. McNeal become the Hilltoppers’ No. 3 in all-time reception totals with his 150th in the third quarter.

The Tops gave up a total of 394 yards – 236 rushing and 158 passing – to the Miners, who were without sophomore running back Aaron Jones, who ranked No. 21 in the nation prior to the game with 886 rushing yards.

WKU trailed 20-14 at the half, and following an 18-play, 86-yard scoring drive from the Miners that ate 11:20 off the game clock, the Hilltoppers found themselves down 27-14 with a little over a quarter to go.

Turns out, those would be the last points the Miners could muster.

The Hilltoppers answered with 1:38 left in the third on the ensuing possession in the form of a seven-play, 75-yard drive capped off by a seven-yard touchdown pass to McNeal on a slant route to bring WKU within 27-21.

Allen said Brohm advised the team to stay prepared during the 11:20 drive.

“Stay ready. Because being on the sideline that long, you can get cold,” Allen said. “Keep the juice going and attack the field like it’s the first play of the game.”

The Miners quickly regained momentum and drove down to the WKU 16-yard line before a little Homecoming magic happened. On third-and-six from the 16, UTEP quarterback Jameill Showers was looking for his man in the end zone, but was picked off by redshirt junior defensive back Wonderful Terry, who returned it 90 yards for the touchdown.

The score gave the Hilltoppers their first lead since the 8:44 mark of the first quarter.

“It was a great play,” Terry said. “Coach told me to sit at the sticks, I sat at the sticks, read the quarterback’s three-step (drop), and I was able to make a play on the ball and take it for six.”

The WKU defense then played its part, forcing UTEP into a three-and-out before a 10-yard touchdown pass to Allen on the ensuing possession. After that, the defense forced another three-and-out and a turnover on downs during the Miners’ last-ditch effort.

The Hilltoppers’ defense now ranks first in the country with four defensive scoring plays of 80 or more yards this season and Terry has two of them.

The Hilltoppers are at home again next week, as they welcome Army for an 11 a.m. kickoff. WKU is 1-0 all-time against the Black Knights, with the Hilltoppers seizing a 21-17 victory last season.