Tops allow 31 second-half points, drop a 45-38 decision at FAU

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty drops back to pass against Florida Atlantic in Boca Raton, Florida on Saturday. Max Jackson/UNIVERSITY PRESS

Kyle Williams

For the second consecutive game, the Hilltoppers’ lack of production in the second half cost them a victory.

WKU dropped a 45-38 decision at Florida Atlantic on Saturday despite leading by 17 at the halfway mark. The Owls tacked on 31 points in the second half, including 17 in the fourth quarter.

The Hilltoppers have held double-digit leads in all six games this season, but now sit at 2-4 on the year and 0-3 in Conference USA play.

FAU totaled 619 yards of offense, led by quarterback Jaquez Johnson with 325 yards through the air, 95 on the ground and five total touchdowns. Receiver Lucky Whitehead, who leads the league in all-purpose yards, had 125 yards receiving with a score, and running back Greg Howell added another to go along with his 118 yards.

Redshirt senior quarterback Brandon Doughty completed 28 of his 44 passes for 365 yards and three touchdowns with an interception. Six different receivers totaled at least 36 yards receiving. Junior running back Leon Allen tallied 58 yards and two touchdowns.

WKU started its first drive with three-straight touches for redshirt sophomore running back Anthony “Ace” Wales before a deceptive flea flicker play set up a 50-yard touchdown pass to sophomore receiver Taywan Taylor.

After the Hilltopper defense forced an FAU punt on the next drive, Doughty needed just one play to find redshirt senior Willie McNeal for 30 yards to extend the WKU lead to 14-0 through the first four minutes of play.

The Owls responded on the following drive in the form of a nine-play, 64-yard drive capped off by an 11-yard touchdown pass by Johnson to Kalib Woods.

The Hilltoppers, despite being within field goal position, opted to go for it on fourth down in the first quarter to no avail. However, the WKU defense made up for it with a forced fumble and recovery by junior linebacker Dejon Brown and sophomore safety Marcus Ward, respectively.

With WKU leading 17-7 in the second quarter, Doughty found junior receiver Antwane Grant on a post route, but Grant bobbled the ball into the arms of an FAU defender, resulting in an interception.

Despite the turnover, the Owls’ 46-yard field goal try on the following drive missed wide right, and then WKU orchestrated a 12-play 71-yard drive to set up a one-yard touchdown run by Allen that gave WKU a 24-7 lead.

With less than a minute left in the half, FAU’s Johnson found room for a one-yard touchdown run, capping off an 8-play, 75-yard drive and bring the Owls within 10 – however, WKU quickly struck back with a five-play, 72-yard drive. Senior tight end Mitchell Henry caught the 22-yard touchdown pass to give WKU a 31-14 halftime lead.

The 17-point lead was WKU’s largest since the season-opener against Bowling Green.

The Owls began the second half with an eight-play, 79-yard drive that resulted in a pitch-and-catch touchdown to Whitehead.  

Following a three-and-out for WKU, the Owls added another score in the form of a one-yard run up the gut from Johnson to cut the Hilltopper lead to 31-28 with eight minutes left in the third quarter.

WKU answered with a 34-yard field goal on the following drive before a roughing the kicker penalty from FAU set up a first and goal from the eight-yard line. Allen then added his second touchdown of the day moments later, reaching over the plane from two yards out to give WKU a 38-28 lead.

After an FAU field goal and a WKU three-and-out, the Owls were left with 10 minutes to knot the score at 38 – and they capitalized. FAU used 14 plays and nearly eight minutes of game time to drive 96 yards for the score.

The Hilltoppers had two game-winning drives of 80+ yards a season ago and needed 75 to make things interesting, but FAU held the prolific WKU offense to a three-and-out, which set up the game’s dramatic finish.

FAU grabbed its first lead of the game on a 61-yard score off a screen pass after the three-and-out from WKU, and although the Hilltoppers had 1:23 to respond, Doughty fumbled after a rough sack, which sealed the 45-38 loss.

WKU will look to secure its elusive Conference USA victory next Saturday as it hosts Old Dominion at 3 p.m.