Rainey’s record day powers WKU past Troy

Senior running back Bobby Rainey became WKU’s all-time leading rusher on this 28-carry in the second quarter of WKU’s 41-18 win over Troy.

Brad Stephens

WKU took to Feix Field against Troy on Saturday with history in its sights.

The Toppers were looking to clinch their first winning season since transitioning to the Football Bowl Subdivision in 2009 and bettering their possibilities for a bowl berth.

Meanwhile senior running back Bobby Rainey came into the game needing 82 yards to break the school’s career rushing record.

Both milestones were shattered in WKU’s 41-18 Senior Day win over the Trojans, the Toppers’ seventh win in eight games.

Head Coach Willie Taggart said his team’s win on Saturday was one that should convince bowl committees to look at his team for an at-large bowl berth.

“I think we’re one of the hottest teams in the country right now,” Taggart said. “To go out and play the way we did today to make a statement — I think we have one of the best running backs in the country. Who wouldn’t want to watch this football team right now?”

Rainey broke former Topper running back Lerron Moore’s mark of 4,396 yards with a 28-yard gallop in the second quarter.

“It was a blessing to just be a part of history,” Rainey said.

He and Moore posed together for a photo after the drive ended, but the fifth-year senior’s career day didn’t end there.

Rainey rushed for 227 yards on 43 carries with three touchdowns, breaking former WKU running back Joe Arnold’s single-season rushing record in the process.

He now has 1,695 yards for the season and 4,542 rushing yards for his career.

Rainey surpassed his single-season mark from a year ago by 46 yards, an accomplishment which impressed his coach more so than breaking the career rushing mark.

“Me and Bobby have this thing where we say, ‘You’re either getting better or you get worse. Nobody stays the same,'” Taggart said. “I don’t think Bobby was really concentrating on the record. He was concentrating on getting 200 yards so he could have more yards than he could have last year…He not only got it, he wrecked it.”

It was Rainey’s three second-half rushing touchdowns which allowed WKU to stay in front of and eventually pull away from Troy.

The first came on a 1-yard plunge on the Toppers’ first drive of the third quarter, putting WKU up 20-6.

Troy pulled back within a score on its next drive thanks to a 35-yard pass from quarterback Corey Robinson to wide receiver Chandler Worthy.

Trojan backup kicker Spencer Martin missed the ensuing extra point, keeping the Topper lead at 20-12.

WKU received the ball later in the quarter at midfield and took advantage of the good field position, going 50 yards in five plays before Rainey ran in a 4-yard touchdown.

Freshman kicker Jesse Roy’s converted extra point pushed the Topper lead to 27-12.

Robinson led Troy back down the field on its next series, finding running back Chris Anderson for a 26-yard touchdown that cut the score to 27-18.

But a Robinson pass fell incomplete on the Trojans’ two-point conversion attempt, keeping their deficit at nine points.

Rainey and WKU took over from there.

The senior running back carried three times for 19 yards on the first three plays of the Toppers’ next drive.

After with a Troy encroachment penalty, WKU faced a 2nd and 1 at the Troy 30-yard line to begin the fourth quarter.

Junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes then found freshman wide receiver Tyler Higbee  on a 29-yard post route inside the one-yard line, setting up Rainey’s third touchdown of the half on the next play.

Troy had to punt back to the Toppers after their next possession fizzled out.

Starting from its own 5-yard line, WKU proceeded to march 94 yards in 16 plays before senior running back Braxston Miller scored from a yard out to make the score 41-18.

It was Miller’s first career touchdown, and it put the Toppers’ seventh win of the year on ice.

“We wore them down throughout the game,” senior left tackle Wes Jeffries said. “I could tell, especially on that last drive, when we went 96 yards and every play was a run play, they were just tired and didn’t want to play with us anymore.”

Jeffries had a rushing touchdown of his own in the second quarter, lining up as a fullback and taking a handoff from Jakes one yard into the end zone.

Roy’s ensuing extra point put the Toppers up 7-0.

Troy running back D.J. Taylor went in from a yard out with 1:27 left in the half to bring the Trojans to within 7-6.

But WKU started its next possession from Troy’s 41-yard line thanks to a 35-yard return from freshman John Evans and and personal foul penalty on the Trojans.

It was one of Troy’s 10 penalties for the game, and perhaps the most costly.

The Toppers took advantage of the good field position, working the ball down inside the 10 before Jakes scored on a 9-yard quarterback draw to give WKU a 14-6 lead.

The Toppers stand at 7-5 on the season, but will have to wait on an invitation to a bowl game to find out whether their year will continue or if Saturday’s win was their season finale.

Taggart said the team will take a few days off to rest while they wait on word of a potential bowl berth.

The Toppers finish the regular year 7-5 after starting 0-4.

Taggart said he’ll look back on this year proud of the way WKU bounced back from the early adversity.

“Everyone told them they suck. We got in our cocoon and went out and took care of business,” Taggart said. “Motivation for us was people telling us what we couldn’t be, and we said we’re going to go out and label ourselves. I think our guys have done a great job of doing that.”