Tops start strong, but can’t finish in 42-39 loss to UAB

WKU redshirt sophomore running back Anthony Wales (20) carries the ball against the Hilltopper’s first Conference USA opponent University of Alabama-Birmingham (UAB) Saturday October 4, 2014 at Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, Ky. Luke Franke/HERALD

Kyle Williams

Despite an impressive first-half performance on both sides of the ball, the Hilltoppers allowed 381 total yards and 28 points in the second half of Saturday’s game against UAB en route to a 42-39 loss in the team’s first Conference USA home outing.

WKU (2-3, 0-2 C-USA) held a 27-14 lead at halftime, but the Blazers (3-2, 1-1) put up 21 points in the third quarter and another seven in the fourth while holding the prolific Hilltopper offense to just 133 yards in the second half after WKU totaled 370 through two quarters. 

The Hilltoppers have now lost three games by a combined 14 points.

“Obviously it’s a very disappointing loss,” Head Coach Jeff Brohm said. “Played well the first half, then in the second half, bottom line, we got beat. The other team played better. Found a way to make plays, we did not. We’ve had a lot of close games. This one was just like it.”

WKU fell behind 7-0 on the game’s first play as UAB’s J.J. Nelson returned the Hilltoppers’ opening kickoff 99 yards for the touchdown – however, WKU then managed to belt out 14-straight points behind a 15-yard strike to sophomore receiver Taywan Taylor from redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty, and a two-yard scoring run from redshirt sophomore running back Anthony Wales.

A 75-yard touchdown run by Wales gave the Hilltoppers a 20-14 lead at the end of the first quarter, and a 21-yard touchdown run by the redshirt sophomore gave WKU a 27-14 advantage at halftime.

Wales recorded 107 yards on just six carries for three touchdowns in the first half.

“I think Ace played well at times,” Brohm said. “He’s a guy that we wanted to get more looks. We did, and he’s very good in the open space.”

The second half proved to be a different story for WKU. After the Hilltoppers went three-and-out on the first drive of the second half, UAB drove down the field in six plays capped by a Jordan Howard touchdown to cut the WKU lead to 27-21 with 10:55 left in the third quarter.

WKU failed to generate yards on the ensuing drive once again. Facing fourth-and-two at their own 34, Wales was stuffed at the line to give UAB a short field to work with. The Blazers regained the lead with a five-yard keeper from quarterback Cody Clements to put UAB on top 28-27 with 8:16 left in the third.

Clements then bombed a 75-yard deep ball to Josh Magee to make the lead 35-27.

“They were able to get some quick strikes and get some touchdowns, and we didn’t,” Brohm said. “We didn’t come out in the second half and take that first drive down and score. It was disappointing because we wanted to increase the lead. It didn’t happen and bam, they were right back in there. They got the momentum going.”

WKU’s offense finally got things going on the next drive with a 24-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to the right corner of the end zone to junior receiver Antwane Grant. WKU failed to convert on the two-point attempt, making it 35-33 in favor of the Blazers.

UAB looked to be nearing the end zone once again on the next drive before redshirt senior defensive back Ricardo Singh intercepted a Clements pass after he was flushed out of the pocket. He returned it 85 yards for a touchdown, giving WKU the lead at 39-35 as the third quarter expired. The pick marked the first-career interception for Singh.

In the fourth quarter, Clements completed a 44-yard pass to Maudrecus Humphry to set up a Howard 15-yard score to give UAB the lead again at 42-39 with 2:37 remaining.

Momentum shifted WKU’s way when redshirt senior Cam Thomas recovered a Howard fumble at the five-yard line on the next UAB possession and returned it near midfield. 

However, the Hilltoppers’ last-ditch effort proved to be unsuccessful, as Doughty’s fourth-down throw to the end zone that was intended for Taylor soared out of bounds. The Hilltoppers were convinced that a UAB player stepped offside to create a free play, but there was no flag thrown.

“We just have to continue to improve each week,” Thomas said. “…Especially watch this film and past films to see how we can do better in the second half and be a four-quarter team…we just have to finish games. That’s the biggest thing with us right now.”

WKU moves on to play FAU on Oct. 18 in Boca Raton, Florida at 11 a.m. CT.