Chilly spring game brings victory for white team

White team wide receiver Rico Brown and running back Avery Habbitt celebrate after scoring Saturday afternoon at the Red and White spring game in Houchens-Stadium. White team won 27-11.

Emily Patton

Although it was a bitter cold Saturday for WKU’s annual spring game, the Toppers produced for Head Coach Willie Taggart.

In front of an estimated 1,250 fans that braved the weather, the white team prevailed with a 27-11 win.

Taggart said there was a clear difference in the attitude on each side, which led to the white team being the ultimate winner.

“One sideline was upbeat and ready to go the entire game,” Taggart said. “The other sideline wasn’t. I think that is a big part of it that gets our guys down. The red team was more like how we used to be. The white team was more where we are trying to go.

“Just trying to teach those guys that you can’t get down, you got to keep coming, keep playing, keep fighting.”

The head coach said he thought the spring game was evenly matched on paper, but the white team took it more seriously the week prior.

Those thoughts were echoed by sophomore running back Keshawn Simpson, who led both teams in rushing with 52 yards and also had one touchdown.

“Red team has been talking stuff all week long,” Simpson said. “White team, we really didn’t say anything all week long. We just went out and proved it. Overall, I think as a combined team we are getting better and have to work over the summer.”

Although the red team scored first with a 40-yard field goal by sophomore kicker/punter Hendrix Brakefield, the white team took over the show from there.

Six minutes into the first quarter, junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes completed a 5-yard touchdown pass to sophomore fullback Kadeem Jones for the white team.

The white team then added seven more points on Simpson’s 8-yard rush.

In the second quarter, Jones had a 5-yard touchdown run with a failed Casey Tinius extra point to make the score 20-3.

Jakes earned his second touchdown pass with a 1-yard pass to freshman redshirt Joel German.

In the second half, the third and fourth quarter consisted of 12 minutes with a running clock.

The red team added eight more points — two from a safety in the third quarter and six from a touchdown pass from Brandon Doughty to Jon Dowling.

Even though the red team struggled, Taggart said the improvement this spring has been huge for the Toppers.

“We are 10 times better than we were last spring,” Taggart said. “I thought that throughout this whole spring, not just this game, they practiced with a purpose.”

Jakes earns MVP

At the beginning of spring camp, Taggart said there would be a competition for the position of quarterback.

During the spring game, Jakes “stepped up” and earned the title of Most Valuable Player.

Jakes went 10-of-16, passing for 157 yards and two touchdowns, while freshman redshirt Brandon Doughty struggled for the red team.

Doughty completed 6-of-23 passes, earning 72 yards and one touchdown.

Taggart said Jakes had a better understanding of the offense compared to Doughty in the game.

“He stepped up, and that’s what we expect from our quarterback to do for us,” he said. “I thought from a leadership standpoint, he did some really good things of building his teammates up.

“In the huddle you can constantly hear him telling guys, ‘Let’s go, good job,’ celebrating with them and just a totally different person than what he’s been.”

The quarterbacks spread the ball out between six different receivers, which had been a problem this spring.

“The scheme we had going in, they was with it,” Jakes said. “The receivers were going no-huddle, up-tempo, trying to get the defense tired. They were with it, and it paid off.”

Attendance fails to reach 15k

Since March, the WKU Marketing Department and the Toppers have pushed the goal of getting 15,000 fans to the spring game.

It was a feat that has never been accomplished by a Sun Belt Conference school before.

But with the weather in the mid-40s, WKU estimated the attendance at just 1,250. An exact attendance could not be determine because turnstiles were not active for the game.

Taggart said he was pleased with the fans that came out but hopes to achieve the goal another time.

“We are going to get there,” he said. “You have to start somewhere. Mother nature — you can’t do anything about that. But I know this for a fact — if it were a sunny day out there, we would have gotten 15,000 fans out there. No doubt about it.”