Aulbach: This time, Topper win over Kentucky is no fluke

WKU sophomore wide receiver Stephon Brown, 89, dances in a circle of his teammates while celebrating Western’s win against Kentucky at LP Field on Saturday, August 31.

Lucas Aulbach

NASHVILLE, Tenn. — It didn’t take a late trick play, it didn’t take four interceptions, and it didn’t take blind luck for WKU to beat Kentucky this time.

Last season’s win over Kentucky was one of the biggest in school history, but it left a lot of people wondering how many the Toppers would really win if the teams faced each other in a ten-game series.

Not this year.

The Toppers left no doubt about who was the better team Saturday night. Coach Bobby Petrino, junior quarterback Brandon Doughty and the rest guys in the chrome helmets never trailed and had every answer all night.

Don’t let the scoreboard fool you, either — despite coming out with the 35-26 win, the Toppers fumbled away two promising possessions and had a couple of crucial drops. They could’ve had more.

WKU beat Kentucky through the air — Doughty threw for 271 yards while Wildcat quarterbacks Maxwell Smith and Jalen Whitlow combined for 203 — and on the clock, where the Toppers dominated time of possession 35:02 to 24:58.

This time, the Wildcats needed luck to still have a chance with minutes to go.

It was a big win for WKU, it was a big win for the football program, but the victory might mean the most to the mastermind — Petrino.

This is a coach who lives and breathes football. In his first game since winning the 2012 Cotton Bowl, Petrino looked like a fish in water on the sideline and on the podium after the game.

There are plenty of stories out there about how much the coach liked to beat the Wildcats while he coached Louisville, one of Kentucky’s biggest rivals.

You couldn’t have scripted a better first opponent for Petrino, who now holds a 5-1 record against the Kentucky — I bet he’d been planning WKU’s first drive since he was hired in December.

The coach has had a long road that led him to the WKU sideline and has earned a win over an SEC school that passed on interviewing him for its head coaching vacancy this offseason — he’ll have the chance to get another one next week at Tennessee.

Petrino wasn’t the only one with something to prove on the field Saturday, though.

Brandon Doughty waited even longer than his coach to get the chance to prove himself once again.

Doughty was pegged as WKU’s starter when the Toppers — fresh off of a 2-10 season at the time, if you can believe it now — faced Indiana State at Smith Stadium in September 2011. Doughty, getting his first career start after jumping Kawaun Jakes into the lineup, didn’t make it through the first WKU possession before he tore his ACL.

The quarterback came back last season as the No. 3 passer on the depth chart and saw the field in one game — clean-up time in a blowout over Southern Mississippi.

He didn’t come into the game with big goals. All he wanted to do, Doughty said, was finally really get a chance to show what he can do under center.

“It was funny — I was in the locker room before the game and I was like, ‘Man, I just want to last through that first series. I didn’t last that first series last time,” said Doughty, who was a perfect 5-for-5 through the air on the first drive. “We got rolling, and it was awesome. It was a great experience and I’m so blessed — I can’t put into words how blessed I am.”

Doughty earned the starting job last spring, solidified it this fall, and put any rumors about his job security to rest Saturday night. He finished with 27 completions for 271 yards and a touchdown.

He and the rest of the team now face the tall task of following up the victory.

Saturday’s game against Tennessee might not have in-state bragging rights on the line, but the stakes might be even higher — another win over an SEC school would prove to the rest of the country that WKU is a force to be reckoned with.

The Toppers could use some luck against the Volunteers next Saturday. But if they play like they did against Kentucky, they wont need it.