Stephens: Browning again a thorn in WKU’s side

Louisiana-Monroe University quarter back, Kolton Browning keeps hold of the ball and pushes past the WKU defensive line. The Warhawks won the game with a surprising two point conversion leaving the score 43-42.

Brad Stephens

The Sun Belt Conference race is far from over.

But after Saturday, the name “KOLTON BROWNING” might as well be engraved on Sun Belt Player of the Year trophy.

Louisiana-Monroe’s quarterback was Captain Clutch for the Warhawks, coming up with every play that needed to be made in a 43-42 overtime win.

He was responsible for the game’s two biggest plays — an overtime touchdown and ensuing two-point conversion.

Browning did it with his feet, running for two touchdowns. He did it with his arm, throwing for four more.

And Browning used both his nimble feet and accurate arm on the game-winning two-point conversion.

He took a shotgun snap, coolly spun left past a blitzing Xavius Boyd and found his receiver, Rashon Caesar, sprinting through the middle of the end zone.

Browning calmly dropped the short pass right into Caesar’s hands, clinching a dramatic win and giving ULM (5-2, 3-0 Sun Belt) sole possession of first place in the league.

Meanwhile the Toppers (5-2, 2-1) walked off the field bitterly, having been reminded of an important Sun Belt maxim — Kolton Browning-led teams won’t go away.

Two years ago as a freshman Browning led ULM back from a 24-7 deficit to stun WKU 35-30.

Last year at ULM’s Malone Stadium he about stole another one, engineering two fourth quarter rallies before the Toppers prevailed 31-28 in overtime.

There was a reason that WKU coach Willie Taggart called Browning a thorn in WKU’s side earlier this week.

“He’s been a nemesis since I’ve been here,” Taggart said Monday.

On Saturday that pesky nemesis calmly led the Warhawks back from a 28-7 deficit — the exact same whole Browning helped dig ULM out of in an early-season upset of then-No. 8 Arkansas.

Browning led the comeback not just with his four touchdown passes or two rushing scores, but with his heads-up play throughout the game.

There was a third-down flea-flicker play in ULM territory that went bad early in the game.

Browning picked up a loose ball about 20 yards behind his line of scrimmage and flung it out of bounds just when it looked like he was about to take a big sack.

That play saved 20 yards worth of field position, which became even more important one play later when ULM downed a punt at WKU’s one-yard line.

Plays like those are what kept the Toppers from turning an early double-digit lead into a rout.

That’s not to say Browning didn’t have some help from the Toppers’ defense.

WKU missed some tackles, blew some assignments and, on the game’s final play, failed to keep Browning in the pocket.

Instead Boyd sprinted at Browning’s inside shoulder and let the ULM QB get to where he’s most dangerous — out of the pocket, moving, making plays.

The Toppers got some great quarterback play of their own, with Kawaun Jakes throwing for 308 yards and four touchdowns.

Though his performance was in a losing effort, Jakes might’ve played one of his best games in a WKU uniform.

But Saturday was about one quarterback, and that was Kolton Browning.

The scariest part for WKU and the rest of the Sun Belt? He’s just a junior.

Hopefully for Topper fans he’ll have exhausted his bag of tricks when the teams meet again next fall.

Then after that, WKU will finally get rid of that thorn in its side.