Notes: Taggart defends fourth-down decision

Junior running back Bobby Rainey rushed for 248 yards on 45 carries Saturday, but it wasn’t enough to overcome 14 fourth-quarter points by visiting Middle Tennessee.

Brad Stephens

In a first year full of tough coaching calls, Willie Taggart was forced to make another tough decision Saturday.

Leading Middle Tennessee 26-13 in the fourth quarter and facing a fourth and goal at the MTSU 1-yard line, Taggart elected to go for the end zone instead of taking the field goal.

Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes fumbled the snap on what was supposed to be a quarterback sneak. MTSU linebacker Isaac Reed picked up the ball and ran 99 yards for a touchdown that made the score 26-20.

The play changed the entire course of the game, leading to a 27-26 Blue Raider victory.

Despite the play’s failure, Taggart was adamant that going for it was the right decision.

“I wanted to go for it. That’s why we went for it,” he said. “If we were thinking about kicking a field goal, we would’ve kicked it. We were on the inch-yard line, and if we can’t get the ball in on the inch-yard line, then we’ve got problems.”

The sequence started with a 3-yard run by junior running back Bobby Rainey on first and goal, taking the ball to the MTSU 3.

Rainey ran the ball again on second and third downs and set up the fourth and goal from the one situation.

The junior said he was disappointed for not getting the touchdown on third down.

“When it comes down to being inches away, I have to make that play,” Rainey said. “That’s why I’m here — to make plays like that — and that didn’t happen.”

This was the third week in a row that the game was decided in part thanks to a Taggart coaching call.

Against Arkansas State last week, he called for a two-point conversion in overtime that gave WKU a 36-35 win.

The week before, against Florida Atlantic, Taggart decided not to go for the two-point conversion that could’ve put his team up by a field goal. WKU eventually lost 17-16.

Another fourth-quarter meltdown at home

Saturday’s loss was the third time this year WKU has blown a fourth quarter lead at home.

The Toppers lost to Louisiana-Monroe 35-30 on Oct. 16 after holding a 24-7 lead going into the fourth quarter.

Then against Florida Atlantic on Nov. 6, WKU had a 16-14 lead before losing 17-16.

After the game, Taggart expressed regret that his team couldn’t pick up a home victory this season.

“You want to take care of your home,” he said. “What’s frustrating is that we’re losing close ballgames — games that we should win.”

Making the loss even tougher for the Toppers was that this meltdown occurred on Senior Day.

“I apologized to our seniors for not going out with a win,” Taggart said. “Our seniors kept our team together and fighting throughout the whole year.”

On a more positive note, seniors Derrick Elder and Mike Gothard were in pads for their Senior Days.

Both retired from football due to career-ending injuries.

“They worked their tails off while they were here, so I thought they were deserving of getting the chance to suit up and go out there one last time with their teammates,” Taggart said.

Record-breaking day for Rainey

Rainey broke the school record Saturday for carries in a single game with 45.

His 45 rushing attempts also allowed him to break both the WKU and Sun Belt Conference records for carries in a single season.

The previous WKU record was set by Jon Frazier when he carried the ball 303 times in 2002.

Meanwhile, the previous Sun Belt record was 307, set by Patrick Cobb of North Texas in 2003.

Rainey’s 248 rushing yards meant he became the first Topper to rush for at least 100 yards in four straight games since Lerron Moore broke the century mark in five consecutive games in 2003.

Rainey has an outside chance at breaking the WKU record for rushing yards in a single season.

He needs 176 yards next Saturday against Troy to tie Joe Arnold’s mark of 1,668 yards set in 1998.