Rainey, WKU defeat MTSU 36-33 in double OT

Senior running back Bobby Rainey caught a 7-yard pass from Kawaun Jakes in double overtime Thursday to push WKU past MTSU 36-33 at Floyd Field in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Brad Stephens

MURFREESBORO, Tenn.  When WKU needed plays to be made Thursday, it turned to the workhorse.

And in double overtime, when the Toppers needed him most, senior running back Bobby Rainey answered that call.

Rainey gained all 25 yards for the Toppers in a decisive double overtime drive, including a game-winning seven-yard reception that gave WKU (1-4, 1-1 Sun Belt Conference) a 36-33 win over rival Middle Tennessee State (1-4, 0-2) Thursday at Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro.

Rainey finished with 146 yards on 37 carries and 57 yards on six catches and two total touchdowns.

“Bobby’s the key to our offense, and when the game gets tough like that we want to go to our guy,” Head Coach Willie Taggart said following the win. “He wasn’t going to let this football team lose.”

The Toppers needed at least a field goal on that possession after MTSU kicker Alan Gendreau gave his team a 33-30 lead to open the double overtime period.

But WKU’s chances looked slim, facing a third and 10 at the Blue Raider 25-yard line.

Taggart called a halfback draw for Rainey, who burst through the line, put his head down and fell forward for an 11-yard gain and a first down.

Rainey carried again for seven yards, setting up a second and three for the Toppers at the MTSU seven-yard line.

On the next play junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes dropped back and hit Rainey in the left flat.

Rainey sprinted to the goal line and slithered inside the pylon, clinching the Toppers’ first win over the Blue Raiders since 2007.

“(The play) was designed for the corner to go with (tight end) Jack Doyle and I continue up the sidelines,” Rainey said. “I got open and Kawaun hit my back shoulder.”

The WKU sideline sprinted on the field to mob Rainey in the end zone and then ran to the opposite corner of the stadium to celebrate with the Toppers’ fan contingent.

“I thought, ‘It’s been awhile since we celebrated in front of our fans,’ so I took off running and told the guys to follow and go over to our fans,” Taggart said.

There were several times throughout the game when it appeared those fans wouldn’t be going back to Bowling Green so happy.

The teams went to halftime tied 7-7, though both missed prime scoring opportunities.

Senior kicker Casey Tinius missed two first half field goals for the Toppers, while MTSU quarterbacks Logan Kilgore and Jeff Murphy were picked off by senior cornerback Derrius Brooks and sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson, respectively, deep in Topper territory.

Though both teams threatened throughout the half, the only scoring came on short-yardage touchdown runs by Kilgore and WKU sophomore fullback Kadeem Jones.

MTSU, who had primarily been attacking WKU through the air, went to the ground early in the third quarter.

Running backs William Pratcher and D.D. Kyles ran for 75 yards on four carries, slicing through the Topper D to put the Blue Raiders up 13-7.

Gendreau’s ensuing extra point was blocked by senior defensive end Jared Clendenin.

“We shut them down in the passing game so they started running and guys just weren’t playing their assignments,” Taggart said. “But we talked to them about it on the sideline and we stepped up.”

WKU had a chance to take the lead right back on its next drive when Jakes lofted a perfect pass to a freshman receiver Joel German, running wide open in the end zone.

But the ball bounced off German’s hands and, two plays later, sophomore Hendrix Brakefield had to punt.

Jakes finished 17 of 34 for 222 yards and one touchdown, putting up good numbers despite the receiving corps being plagued by dropped balls.

MTSU was then driving to take a two-score lead when receiver Malcolm Beyah fumbled the ball over in Topper territory.

WKU’s ensuing drive fizzled, but Brakefield pinned the Blue Raiders inside their two-yard line with a punt.

Brakefield finished the night with eight punts for a 43.1 yard average, including four that were downed inside the MTSU 20.

That particular punt proved especially important.

Next to their own goal line, the Blue Raiders ran a toss left to Pratcher, who never made it back to the line.

He was engulfed by Jackson in the end zone for a safety, cutting the lead to 13-9.

“They tried the toss earlier and I played it with caution,” Jackson said. “The last time I just went in and took it and it paid off for two points to help us out.”

After the teams traded punts once more, Rainey put the Toppers in front 16-13 with a 10-yard run.

Gendreau missed a field goal on MTSU’s first drive of the fourth quarter, but hit a 22-yarder on the Blue Raiders’ next drive to tie the game at 16.

Freshman running back John Evans got the lead right back for the Toppers, returning the ensuing MTSU kickoff 90 yards for a touchdown, giving WKU a 23-16 lead.

But Kilgore, who had struggled during the game’s first three quarters, led MTSU on a 15 play, 86 yard march in 4:15, eventually finding receiver Anthony Amos wide open over the middle for an eight yard touchdown.

Kilgore finished 23 of 47 for 282 yards with two touchdowns and one interception.

Amos, with 100 yards on seven grabs, was the Blue Raiders’ leading pass-catcher.

After trading punts, WKU had a chance to win in regulation, getting the ball to the MTSU 17-yard line at one point.

But a costly holding call on sophomore center Sean Conway and a false start penalty on junior right guard Adam Smith set the Toppers back.

WKU had to settle for a 46-yard field goal attempt from Tinius, which was blocked.

Tinius finished 0 for 3 on field goal attempts Thursday.

The Toppers received the ball first in the first overtime period and marched down to the one-yard line before Jones barreled his way into the end zone.

But MTSU scored on its first play of the overtime, with Kilgore finding receiver Sancho McDonald on a 25-yard touchdown pass.

That set up the double overtime situation, and Rainey’s final heroics.

Rainey’s 146 yards were the most for him in a game this season and combined with Doyle’s 100 receiving yards, the two became the first Topper duo to produce 100 receiving and rushing yards in a game since 2009.

It was also the most carries for Rainey since he carried a school-record 45 times in WKU’s 27-26 loss to the same Blue Raider team in November of last season.

Going into Thursday, Taggart had talked of his team needing to hold up its end of the WKU-MTSU rivalry after dropping three straight in the series.

Taggart said after the game the Blue Raiders “better” believe the rivalry is alive and well.

“If not,” Taggart said, smiling, “we’re going to keep doing this.”