WKU extends home losing streak in 27-26 loss to MTSU

Head coach Willie Taggart lingers on the field Saturday after WKU’s last home game of the season — a 27-26 loss to Middle Tennessee. It was WKU’s second loss of the season by a point.

Brad Stephens

It looked like the streak may finally come to an end.

For three quarters Saturday, WKU dominated Middle Tennessee and seemed ready to snap a home losing streak that dates back to the 2008 season.

But another fourth-quarter meltdown led to a 27-26 win for MTSU (4-6, 3-4 Sun Belt Conference) on Senior Day at Houchens-Smith Stadium, and the streak now spans 15 games.

“We shot ourselves in the foot once again,” Head Coach Willie Taggart said. “It goes back to execution and capitalizing when you have the opportunity. We didn’t do that.”

WKU (2-9, 2-5) began its collapse with just over 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter. Holding a 26-13 lead and the ball at the MTSU 1-yard line, Taggart left his offense on the field to go for it. Sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes fumbled the snap, and as WKU players stood and watched the pile, MTSU linebacker Rod Isaac picked up the ball and scampered 99 yards for a touchdown, cutting the lead to 26-20.

“It’s our luck,” said Taggart, who added that he didn’t want to kick a field goal. “All year this is the type of stuff that’s happened to us.”

Then after forcing a WKU punt, the Blue Raiders marched down the field and scored the winning touchdown on a 6-yard rush by running back Benjamin Cunningham, making the score 27-26.

Junior kicker Casey Tinius had a chance to give WKU the lead back with 2:32 left in the game, but his 34 yard field goal attempt was tipped at the line of scrimmage and fell short.

WKU then got the ball back at its own 47 with 1:22 left, but failed to make a first down, ending the game.

“It goes back to execution,” Taggart said. “You’ve got to capitalize when you have the opportunity, and we didn’t do that.”

The loss overshadowed a monster day by junior running back Bobby Rainey.

Rainey carried the ball a career-high 45 times for 248 yards and two touchdowns.

He broke the WKU record for single season carries in the process, breaking Jon Frazier’s mark set in 2002, and now has 313 carries this season.

“Bobby did today what he’s been doing all year,” Taggart said. “He’s been playing like a champion, and that’s what he did today.”

Rainey ran for 214 of his yards in the second half, crediting spring and summer workouts to him getting stronger as the MTSU defense weakened.

However, it was a rare miscue that Rainey focused on while talking to media.

Early in the second quarter, Rainey dropped a potential touchdown pass from Jakes that would’ve given WKU a 19-7 lead. Instead, the Toppers settled for a Tinius field goal that made the game 16-7.

“The most frustrating thing in football is to lose by one point,” Rainey said. “If I had caught that touchdown, it would’ve been a different ball game.”

WKU had an early lead thanks to the special teams performance of freshman linebacker Bar’ee Boyd.

In the game’s first drive, Boyd blocked a MTSU punt to give the Toppers the ball at the Blue Raiders’ 24-yard line. WKU took advantage of the field position, and a Rainey touchdown gave the Toppers a 7-0 lead.

Later in the quarter, Boyd blocked a second punt, that recovered by junior cornerback Derrius Brooks in the end zone to put Toppers up 13-7.

Two Tinius field goals, including a 22-yarder as the first half expired, gave WKU a 19-10 halftime lead.

The Toppers made the score 26-10 when Rainey plunged over the goal line from two yards out with 5:04 left in the third quarter.

That was the last time WKU scored all game.

The Toppers almost doubled MTSU’s yardage total, out-gaining the Blue Raiders 395-208.

MTSU quarterback Dwight Dasher was held to 12 of 25 passing for 68 yards.

The only sustained drive MTSU had all game was its fourth-quarter touchdown drive. Running backs Cunningham and Phillip Tanner accounted for 53 yards on the drive, all of them coming on the ground.

Although the Blue Raiders struggled to gain yardage, WKU was unable to force any turnovers on the day.

That may be seen as a missed opportunity, considering MTSU came into the day at the bottom of the Football Bowl Subdivision with a -2.22 turnover margin. MTSU’s win moves them to sixth in the Sun Belt standings, while the WKU loss will keep the Toppers at the bottom of the standings.

WKU will play its season finale Saturday at Troy.

The Trojans lost 69-24 today to South Carolina in a non-conference game but are currently second in the Sun Belt.

WKU senior linebacker Chris Bullard said the Toppers are coping with Saturday’s loss by focusing on the Troy game.

“We have the same mindset we’ve had all year,” Bullard said. “Us getting this last win against Troy will set a statement and can spark something for next year.”