Late kick return lifts MTSU past WKU

WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes (6) watches during the final moments of the WKU vs. MTSU Smith Stadium in Bowling Green on Nov. 1, 2012. WKU lost 29-34.

Lucas Aulbach

They overcame a slow start, but key errors buried the Toppers as Middle Tennessee beat WKU 34-29 at Smith Stadium on Thursday.

The game was tied at 27-27 coming in to the fourth quarter but special teams lapses and an interception in the final two minutes sealed the win for the Blue Raiders.

The Topper run defense didn’t do WKU any favors either – MTSU ran for a total of 224 rushing yards.

“I said going onto the game we couldn’t turn the ball over or give up big plays and we had to play outstanding on special teams and we didn’t any of those things and we got the results that I thought we would if we didn’t do them,” coach Willie Taggart said after the game.

The winning score for MTSU came immediately after a Topper field goal. With 11 minutes left in the fourth quarter, MTSU running back Reggie Whatley returned the kickoff 96 yards for the game’s final touchdown.

Taggart said while that particular play was a big nail in WKU’s coffin, the Toppers had been giving up big kickoff returns all night.

“I thought we did a terrible job on kickoff coverage all game,” he said. “We had a couple of stops there but we gave them too much field position on the kickoff team.”

Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes had a good showing for WKU, throwing for 283 yards and three touchdowns, but a tipped ball on the final drive led to his only interception and ultimately decided the outcome.

MTSU quarterback Logan Kilgore gave the Toppers two points when he ran out of the end zone three plays later on the game’s final snap.

Jakes was at his best when he threw the long ball. All three touchdown passes were total bombs – the first throw went 35 yards to freshman wide receiver Austin Aikens, the second went 25 yards to junior running back Antonio Andrews, and he hit sophomore wide receiver Willie McNeal for a 32-yard score in the third quarter.

McNeal proved to be WKU’s top receiver. He pulled in seven receptions for 119 yards and a score.

Andrews controlled the Topper offense on the ground. He gained 136 yards on 25 carries, including a five-yard rush on a crucial fourth-and-one in the first half.

He did more than just run the ball, though. The junior caught several passes and returned every kickoff and punt WKU received, finishing with a career-high 396 all-purpose yards.

“Three hundred yards, it’s good, but we still got that loss,” Andrews said after the game. “Right now I’m at a loss for words, but it is what it is.”

The Blue Raiders had all the momentum to start the game. They ran up 202 rushing yards in the first half, including 178 in the first quarter alone.

Taggart said the Toppers had prepared for the Blue Raider rushing attack but struggled to contain it when the game started.

“They’ve been running the ball all year, and been doing a good job at it,” he said. “I was surprised that they ran it so well on us in that first quarter.”

MTSU held the lead for much of the first half before the Toppers finally tied the game at 17-17 with a field goal from Garrett Schwettman late in the second quarter.

The teams traded touchdowns in the third quarter before the shootout fourth quarter.

The Toppers will have ample time to come back from the loss. WKU’s will face Florida Atlantic in their next game, at home on Nov. 10.