Late comeback gives Toppers 25-24 win

Head coach Willie Taggart celebrates with the players after defeating North Texas 25-24 Saturday, Nov. 24, 2012 at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Lucas Aulbach

They had to go to the fourth quarter of their final game to do it, but the Toppers finally looked like the dominant WKU team of the start of the season Saturday, coming back from a 24-10 fourth-quarter deficit to earn a 25-24 win over North Texas at Smith Stadium.

It’s a huge win on Senior Day for WKU (7-5, 4-4 Sun Belt Conference) as the regular season winds down. The Toppers had lost three consecutive Sun Belt games before Saturday and needed a win to bolster their resume to bowl representatives that may be considering WKU.

“My last game on Feix Field is a ‘W’ – can’t beat that,” senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes said after the game. “We’re going to go to a bowl, get a bowl win – you can’t beat that.”

The Topper seniors can rest easy knowing they earned a win in their final game at Smith Stadium, but the outcome wasn’t always so certain. WKU sputtered through three quarters of inconsistent offense and several personal foul penalties before putting it together in the last 15 minutes.

Coach Willie Taggart said positivity was the reason the Toppers were able to come back.

“This is the first time in a long time where we stayed positive through adversity,” he said. “We just stayed positive and kept working and it paid off for us.”

The Topper defense pulled WKU back into it, producing stop after stop in the fourth quarter.

Sophomore safety Jonathan Dowling kick-started the WKU rally with about 12 minutes to go in the game.

Down 24-10, Dowling picked off a pass from UNT quarterback Derek Thompson, his sixth interception of the year, and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown. A botched extra point meant WKU trailed 24-16.

A field goal five minutes later closed the gap to 24-19. The Topper defense forced a three-and-out and gave the ball to the offense at the WKU 22-yard line — that’s when junior running back Antonio Andrew took over.

Andrews had already racked up 117 rushing yards before WKU’s next possession but he took over the game when on the Toppers’ final scoring drive.

He had a 53-yard rush from the 22-yard line to bring the Toppers to the UNT 25.

Junior running back Keshawn Simpson picked up four yards on the ground on the next play and Andrews took the following handoff 21 yards to give the Toppers the winning score, though they failed to convert on the ensuing two-point conversion.

The Mean Green got the ball back with 3:21 to go deep in their own territory but were shut down by the Topper defense and gave the ball up on downs.

Andrews ripped off a 35-yard run to the UNT one-yard line two plays later but chose to fall before the end zone and run out the clock instead of taking it in for another score, assuring a 25-24 win.

Andrews finished with 230 rushing yards and a touchdown on 25 carries. He also had two fumbles, but Taggart said he more than made up for those mistakes with his strong play late in the game.

“You look at my bad coaching – I make it up,” Taggart said. “Sure enough, he went out and made it up for us.”

Jakes was inconsistent but earned a win in his final home game. He threw for 173 yards on 14-of-29 passes, with a first-quarter touchdown to senior tight end Jack Doyle and interception.

Junior linebacker Andrew Jackson was a force for the WKU defense, finishing with a game-high 15 tackles, including three for a loss.

With the win, the Toppers finish the season with seven wins, one more than the required six for bowl-eligibility. Their postseason fate is now in the hands of bowl committees.

Taggart said the Toppers will take the night off before they figure out their postseason fate.

“We’re going to have fun the rest of the day,” he said with a smile after the game. “We’re going to enjoy this, have fun, have a team meeting tomorrow and then wait to see where we’re going to go.”