Topper football team makes history by inches

Senior Antonio Andrews breaks the Arkansas State defenders for a 1st down in the 4th quarter. WKU won 34-31 against Arkansas State on Nov. 30, 2013 at Houchens-Smith Stadium. 

Elliott Pratt

Football is a game of inches, and the 2013 WKU football senior class didn’t want to settle for another 7-5 record — they wanted to go for that extra inch.

If it weren’t for a big catch from redshirt senior wide receiver Jamarielle Brown, WKU may be holding its season-ending press conference sooner than later. Instead, the Toppers walked off the field Saturday with a 34-31win over Arkansas State.

On fourth-and-nine at their own 32-yard line, WKU (8-4, 4-3 Sun Belt Conference) made a play that extended their football lives just a little longer thanks to an 1-yard reception by Brown, who didn’t want to see his WKU career end yet.

“You can’t say enough about JB’s catch on the sideline,” coach Bobby Petrino said after the game. “It certainly was a game of inches on that one.”

Junior quarterback Brandon Doughty fired a pass to the WKU sideline where Brown extended his 6-foot-1-inch frame as far as it would, caught the ball and tip-toed one foot in bounds, which was all he needed to move the chains and keep the game going.

“I dropped two passes leading up to that and coach (Lamar) Thomas was like, ‘You don’t want to be remembered by that. You don’t want your last memories to be that,’” Brown said. “So I just squeezed it. I give all the glory to God for that catch because I don’t know how I got that toe in.”

Brown’s catch on the sideline was one of many plays that coach Petrino said kept WKU’s season alive, including junior wide receiver Willie McNeal’s game-winning touchdown grab with 10 seconds to play.

Petrino said WKU’s fight through tough situations is what has put the team on the winning side of many games this season.

“It just shows how competitive they are and how well they’ve practiced because you practice things like that and you work hard on situations,” he said. “It shows our strength and conditioning staff how well they work our players because we’re in good condition. That was a hard drive at the end to have to go 99 yards and that kind of intensity and enthusiasm takes a lot out of you but they stuck in there and fought and competed extremely hard.”

Even for those on the sidelines during the final drive, like senior linebacker Andrew Jackson, the final minutes were hard to watch.

“I barely could look,” Jackson said. “I didn’t expect it to go down like this. I was just nervous to see what the offense had for us and they pulled it off. It was crazy and it just so happened to be my senior night. I’m so happy it worked out.”

As fortune would have it, WKU has ended the season 8-4, the best record for the Toppers since joining the FBS in 2009. They avoided back-to-back 7-5 seasons and they avoided complacency.

Players like Jackson have seen the team come from breaking season-long losing streaks to finishing with a winning record three years in a row. WKU’s bowl fate was still up in the air at the Herald’s press deadline, but Jackson said Saturday’s win was a good way to close his home career.

“I’m just very proud of my teammates and to be a part of this,” Jackson said. “Finally, Western Kentucky can get some love from across the world instead of just being in the Sun Belt. I’m glad we’re moving up and I see a rise for WKU.”