UK win a milestone for WKU

Toppers quarterback Kawaun Jakes (6) is congratulated by his teammate  defensive lineman Jamarcus Allen (43) after winning the game after the WKU vs. Kentucky Wildcats football game in Lexington on Saturday, Sept. 15. The Toppers won in overtime 32-31. 

Lucas Aulbach

By now, the time limit for WKU’s “24-hour rule” — a rule that states players must focus on their next opponent 24 hours after their last game — has passed.     

But even coach Willie Taggart knows it’ll be hard to forget what happened in Lexington on Saturday night.

WKU scored its first win against Kentucky on Saturday night, beating the Wildcats 32-31 in overtime.

“That was a big-time accomplishment for us and our guys were excited — I gave them 25 hours instead of 24 hours,” Taggart said on Monday. “At 11 o’clock last night, I texted all of them and told them it was over with. We’re on to the next one.”

Players and coaches said they’re focused on the next opponent, Southern Mississippi, but the impact of the UK win on the WKU football program deserves some reflection.

The victory is the first by WKU over an automatic qualifying-conference school since Division I split into I-A and I-AA in 1978.

It is also the school’s first win over an SEC school.

The way the Toppers won the game is just as notable as its implications.

WKU rushed to a 17-0 first-half lead before going into halftime up 17-10.

Up 24-17 with 2:15 to go in the game, the Toppers gave up the tying touchdown to Kentucky with 24 seconds left. The game was headed for overtime.

The Wildcats took over on offense to start the overtime period and had a seven-point lead when WKU took over minutes later.

Taggart, who has a 4-0 overtime record, said the Toppers’ overtime record gave them confidence in the extra period.

“When we did go to overtime, I brought our team together and I was like, “Hey, this is what we do. We’re the overtime king — whenever we go to overtime, we win,’” Taggart said. “Our guys were fired up, they understood we were back in our neck of the woods being in overtime, and they went out and played well.”

Junior running back Antonio Andrews punched it in to the end zone on the ensuing drive for WKU.

Then instead of kicking the extra point to tie the game and send it in to another overtime, Taggart and the team elected to go for the two-point conversion.

With the game on the line, the Toppers were going to win or go back to Bowling Green empty-handed.

Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes took the snap and tossed it to junior running back Antonio Andrews, who was two yards behind him and on the other side of the field.

Andrews, a former Kentucky Mr. Football winner as a high school quarterback, threw the ball back at Jakes, who went untouched on his eight-yard run into the end zone.

“We play to win,” Andrews said. “It surprised me what play he called, but in this game you play to win.”

Taggart said the trick play, called “Seminole,” was added to the WKU playbook just days before the Kentucky game.

“That play came up in practice one day like ‘Hey, let’s try this,” Taggart said. “We put it in Wednesday, practiced it Thursday, walked through it again on Friday, and walked through it again on Saturday.”

Andrews and Jakes were instrumental parts of the WKU victory. Andrews finished with 125 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, and Jakes went 16-of-22 for 160 yards and a touchdown.

Andrews was named Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week for his efforts.

The win is one of the biggest victories for the Toppers since they won the Division I-AA national championship in 2002.

Taggart was co-offensive coordinator for WKU in 2002.

Now the head coach, he said the Kentucky win was just another step in WKU’s quest for a bowl berth.

“At the end of the season, we want everybody to know who we are and what we’re about,” Taggart said. “Right now, we’re on schedule with what we set out to do.”