WKU drops Sun Belt opener 31-24 at South Alabama

Quarterback Brandon Doughty (12) throws through traffic during the first half of WKU’s game against Southern Alabama Sept. 14, 2013 at Ladd – Pebbles Stadium in Mobile Ala.

Elliott Pratt

MOBILE, Ala. — WKU’s road through the Sun Belt is going to be a rough one after dropping the conference opener to South Alabama Saturday night 31-24.

The Toppers worked to build a 21-10 lead at halftime but could muster just three points in the second half as the Jaguars whittled away at the deficit.

Junior Brandon Doughty was the quarterback WKU needed for three and a half quarters of football. The Davie, Fla. native completed 27-of-47 passes for 282 yards and three touchdowns, but two costly interceptions late in the game gave South Alabama all they needed to hand the Toppers their second loss in a row.

Jaguars quarterback Trey Fenter punched in the score with 1:38 left in the game to give USA its first lead of the game, resulting in the eventual win.

Doughty used every second of the game’s waning moments to drive the offense down the field for the tying touchdown. That was defeated as the quarterback’s pass was intercepted in the end zone by cornerback Tyrell Pearson with five seconds left in the game.

While the Jaguars stormed the field celebrating their opening conference win, WKU left the field looking to climb out of a hole to get back in the race for the Sun Belt title.

“That’s a tough loss,” Petrino said. “We had a lot of opportunities to win that game – starting right at the end of the first half. We were in control of the game and had the chance with a two-minute drive and we don’t score. We don’t take advantage of the opportunities and then they made some plays in the second half.

“We just didn’t get it done.”

Nicholas Norris was the beneficiary to two touchdown passes from Doughty.  The freshman led all receivers with seven catches for 95 yards and became the first WKU wide receiver since 2009 to catch multiple touchdown passes in a game.

The run game continued to play into the game as a strong point for the Toppers. Senior running back Antonio Andrews eclipsed 100 yards after 15 attempts and 122 yards on the evening. Sophomore Leon Allen followed with 41 yards on eight carries.

Petrino said once South Alabama began attacking WKU’s run game, the pass game didn’t follow suit to the expectations.

“It seemed like we were in control for a while,” Petrino said. “They started blitzing to start our run game and weren’t able to take advantage of it in the passing game.”

The opening drive once again proved to be a strong suit for WKU. The Hilltoppers only needed 2:40 to move the ball 79 yards on five plays with a 16-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to junior tight end Tyler Higbee.

WKU once again won the battles on paper — out-performing USA in first downs 26-18, holding the ball for 32:51 compared to 27:09, and 427 yards of offense to 414.

It was the unfortunate timing of events that hurt WKU once again, and it’s the reason the Toppers now find themselves at 1-2 overall heading into Saturday’s home opener against Morgan State.

“There were so many opportunities throughout the game where we had a chance to make a play and effect the outcome,” Petrino said. “We didn’t do it.”

WKU  14  7  0  3 – 24

USA  7  3  11  10 – 31

First quarter

WKU – Higbee 16 yard pass from Doughty (Schwettman kick), 12:20

USA – Metheny 1 yard run (Sunanon kick), 8:06

WKU – Norris 5 yard pass from Doughty (Schwettman kick), 0:32

Second quarter

USA – Sunanon 42 yard field goal, 13:56

WKU – Norris 20 yard pass from Doughty (Schwettman kick), 5:47

Third quarter

USA – Sunanon 43 yard field goal, 11:35

USA – Jones 4 yard run (Howton pass to Metheny), 3:23

Fourth quarter

WKU – Schwettman 44 yard field goal, 14:47

USA – Sunanon 37 yard field goal, 12:28

USA – Fenter 1 yard run (Sunanon kick), 1:38