Roy kicks WKU to overtime win over ULM after wild fourth quarter

Brad Stephens

The outcome Saturday came down to the walk-on freshman.

After WKU and Louisiana-Monroe swapped late comebacks to force overtime, and senior cornerback Derrius Brooks picked off a pass on the first extra ULM drive, kicker Jesse Roy had the chance to end a bizarre Saturday afternoon.

The walk-on freshman from Charlotte had missed both an extra point and a 31-yard field goal earlier in the day.

But Roy put his 24-yard attempt through, giving WKU (4-4, 4-1 Sun Belt Conference) a dramatic 31-28 road victory in Malone Stadium over ULM (2-6, 1-3).

Roy said he relished the chance to kick the game-winner as opposed to the Toppers just ending the game with a touchdown.

“I wanted to kick one,” he told WKU’s Big Red Radio following the game. “Once it left my foot, it felt good.”

Roy’s kick was just the third made attempt by Topper kickers in 12 attempts this season.

But for much of the day it didn’t look like heroics would be needed for WKU to notch the win, its fourth straight.

The Toppers led 20-7 with less than eight minutes in the game when freshman running back John Evans fumbled a punt return.

The Warhawks recovered at their own 46.

Head Coach Willie Taggart said that right before the fumble he’d gone down his sideline reminding players of last year’s meeting with ULM.

In that 2010 game, the Warhawks scored 28 fourth-quarter points to come back from a 24-7 deficit.

They eventually handed WKU a 35-30 loss.

“I told them that same team is the one that spoiled our parade,” Taggart said. “And as soon as I said that, then we botched the punt. 

“When we botched that punt, I thought Uncle Mo (momentum) jumped off our sideline and jumped on their sideline. And they started believing.”

ULM quarterback Kolton Browning marched the Warhawks 54 yards in 10 plays, capping the drive off with a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Colby Harper.

WKU drove down to the Warhawk 25, but junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes was sacked on a 3rd and 8 play.

Taggart elected to send out sophomore Hendrix Brakefield to punt, and he backed ULM to its own six-yard line with just 3:13 left.

But Browning methodically marched the Warhawks out of the shadow of their own end zone, into Topper territory, and into the WKU red zone.

He finally ended the drive himself with a six-yard touchdown run to give his side a 21-20 lead.

Browning ran for 35 yards on the drive as the Toppers relied on a man-to-man coverage.

“Our d-line was rushing up the field, trying to put pressure on him, knowing he had to throw the ball,” Taggart said.  “He did a good job of stepping up and making things happen there.”

With less than a minute remaining, Evans sliced his way 79 yards on the ensuing kickoff, down the field to the ULM nine-yard line.

Two plays later, senior running back Bobby Rainey went in from four yards out to give the Toppers a 26-21 lead.

A two-point conversion pass from Jakes to freshman wide receiver Boe Brand pushed that margin to seven points.

“With 50-some seconds left in the game and a kickoff return, in the past we would’ve gave up,” Taggart said. “Those guys stepped up, and it was great to see John Evans make up for that botched punt. 

“You saw throughout the game, a guy misses an assignment and comes back at the end to make a play.”

Seventy-eight yards away from the end zone, down seven, with 38 seconds left and no timeouts remaining, it was the Warhawks’ turn to overcome some adversity.

Browning did just that, completing consecutive 19- and 56-yard passes to put the ball at the WKU seven.

From there, he found wide receiver Anthony McCall for the game-tying score to force overtime.

ULM got the ball first in the extra period and made its way in three plays to the Topper three-yard line.

But on a first and goal pass, Brooks made a leaping grab in the end zone to give possession back to WKU.

It was the second straight week the former wide receiver had come up with a late-game interception, after doing so last Saturday in a 42-23 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

“When I saw a big receiver running in the end zone, I just smiled because I knew it was coming my way,” Brooks said. “People probably think with my size being 5’9” that I can’t jump, but I have a pretty good vertical.”

Taggart then elected to keep the ball in the hands of his most reliable offensive weapon, Rainey.

The senior running back took the ball down to the seven, setting up Roy for his 24-yard game winner.

Taggart said he had faith in Roy to make the kick, even with the freshman’s struggles early in the game and the team’s struggles at the position throughout the season.

“I’ve got confidence in every last one of our players, I think you’ve seen that throughout my time here,” Taggart said. “They’re Hilltoppers, I’m a Hilltopper, and there’s not a guy on this team I don’t believe in.”

ULM took the first lead of the game at the 13:50 mark of the second quarter on a five-yard run from running back Mitchell Bailey.

The Toppers dominated the next 35 minutes of game time however.

Jakes had a 13-yard touchdown pass to freshman tight end Mitchell Henry and a 15-yard touchdown pass to Rainey sandwiched around a one-yard touchdown run by sophomore fullback Kadeem Jones.

Those scores gave WKU its 20-7 lead.

The Toppers are now tied with ULL for second in the conference standings, trailing Arkansas State and its 3-0 league mark.

WKU will look for its fifth straight win next Saturday in Smith Stadium against Florida International.

“We’re hungry, we’re hungry, we’re hungry and every Saturday we’re going to eat,” he said. “We ate today, and tomorrow we’re going to let it digest and burp, and we’re going to be back at it next week.”