Toppers snap 26-game losing streak, arrive to raucous crowd

The WKU football team is greeted by a cheering crowd on Saturday night at Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport following its first win in 26 games.

Zach Greenwell

The WKU football team had become accustomed to not talking about its 26-game losing streak.

But after the Toppers shrugged the monkey off their back last Saturday with a 54-21 win at Louisiana-Lafayette, they had a few things to say about that pesky string of losses.

“I’ve only been a part of six of those, but that felt long enough,” Head Coach Willie Taggart said. “But I’m happy for these guys that have been around here for 26. It’s just been miserable for them, and I’m so proud of them.”

When junior backup-quarterback Matt Pelesasa ran out the clock with a series of kneels Saturday, reactions made it seem as if WKU had just won a national championship.

The Toppers were treated like champions when they arrived back in Bowling Green, as hundreds of fans greeted the team at the Bowling Green-Warren County Regional Airport and Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Players calmly strolled off their charter plane and into the masses of waiting fans. Make no mistake, though: sophomore quarterback Kawaun Jakes said it was a rowdy flight back.

“Everybody was joking, from managers to trainers to coaches,” Jakes said. “The win just felt like a million bucks.”

WKU’s win Saturday was its first in more than two years — 763 days, to be exact.

When the Toppers last won against Murray State in 2008, George W. Bush was president, and Ken McDonald had yet to coach a basketball game for WKU.

“I’m happy that our fans can really smile and feel better now,” Taggart said. “If there’s any that left us, come on back, because we’re going to get this thing rolling.”

For many of WKU’s younger players, winning isn’t such an unfamiliar feeling.

But for seniors like linebacker Chris Bullard, it’s been a long time coming.

“It’s nice to be able to go back on campus and give our fans a win,” he said. “I feel like we’ll be able to walk around campus with a little swag about ourselves.”

The Toppers didn’t have to wait until the school week to be blanketed with praise on campus. For the first time in more than two years, fans came to the team.

Offensive line coach Walt Wells said he hoped the Toppers soaked in the post-game adoration because it can be a powerful motivator.

“For them to pull up and then come off with people chanting their name and singing the fight song — that’s why you win,” Wells said. “I’m glad they got a little taste of that.”

Taggart said he gave WKU its customary 24 hours to enjoy the win after the game.

But after knocking “King Kong” off their backs last Saturday, Taggart said it’s now all about knocking off North Texas at home this weekend.

One win may have felt like a national championship, but there’s a lot more work to be done, he said.

“More than anything, it makes our guys believe they can do it all the time,” Taggart said. “They hear about it all the time, but now we’ve done it. Now we can just play ball and not worry about the streak.

“We’re trying to start another streak. One with a ‘W.’”