Aulbach: Wins like Saturday don’t come around every day

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers wide receiver Willie McNeal (10) and receiver Stephon Brown (89) celebrate Western Kentucky’s 34-31 victory over Arkansas State in the last home game of the season.

Lucas Aulbach

Even Bobby Petrino had never been a part of a finish like the one the Toppers put on the field Saturday night at Smith Stadium.

“We’ve had a lot of good wins and a lot of last-minute wins — like the Army one, which you never forget — but I don’t think I’ve ever been one that come down to a play like that,” the coach said after WKU’s 34-31 win over Arkansas State.

Petrino has been a football coach at some level for the past 30 years, so the fact that this win sticks out in his mind speaks volumes about what kind of finish it was — and what that finish means for WKU (8-4, 4-3 Sun Belt Conference).

The Toppers took the ball at the one-yard line with 5:30 to play down 31-27 and engineered a 99-yard scoring drive on Antonio Andrews’ back and Brandon Doughty’s arm.

Andrews picked up 60 all-purpose yards on the final drive and Doughty threw for 66, but they weren’t the only heroes.

Junior wide receiver Willie McNeal hauled in the winning touchdown with 10 seconds to go, but the catch of the game — maybe the catch of the season — goes to senior wide receiver Jamarielle Brown. On fourth-and-nine at the WKU 32, Doughty found Brown on the sideline. The fifth-year senior stretched to haul in the catch and managed to keep one foot in bounds to keep the drive alive.

Brown was one of many seniors to make his mark on Senior Day.

Andrews was the standout, finishing with 119 rushing yards, 58 receiving yards, and a rushing touchdown. But others such as linebacker Andrew Jackson, who had 11 tackles and eyes on the Arkansas State quarterback all day, and Arius Wright, who had 10 tackles and a sack, played a big role in the win.

Maybe it was the fact that this was the final home game for so many Toppers that had the team so fired up — WKU and the Red Wolves came to blows at the end of the first half in a scuffle that left Petrino furious with the referees.

While it was an exciting finish to the game, WKU fans should be even more excited about what it could mean.

Representatives from the Bowl were at the game and at 8-4, the Toppers should be in good shape to get back in the postseason next month. They might not have picked up the Sun Belt title Petrino coveted, but after winning the past four games, WKU fans should be happy with whatever bowl shoots them an invite.

Thinking about WKU’s postseason fate can wait until tomorrow, though. Wins like this don’t come around very often, and Topper fans can be forgiven for taking a little time to celebrate.