FOOTBALL: Defense smothers Colonels in renewed rivalry

Danny Schoenbaechler

Erik Dandy deserved a rest.

He had been tormenting the Eastern Kentucky offense all night and decided to sit down for a moment. Cradling the football in his right arm, Dandy extended his left index finger in the air.

He was making a statement, and the Hilltopper defense had provided all the evidence needed to back up his gesture.

The defensive dominance led No. 3 Western to a 36-3 demolition of Eastern in the renewal of the Battle of the Bluegrass.

Dandy, a senior, sat on the Smith Stadium turf after snatching a fourth quarter interception. He also had a fumble recovery, two sacks and seven tackles.

“We are the best defense in the nation,” Dandy said. “We wanted to stop the rush and take control of the game.”

The Western front seven held Eastern to minus 16 yards rushing for the game, and its constant blitzing disrupted Eastern quarterback Matt Guice. Guice threw for 185 yards, tossed two interceptions and was sacked five times.

“Our defense is built on speed and quickness, and I told our guys that (Eastern) hadn’t seen our speed yet,” coach David Elson said.

The game’s offensive star was sophomore Lerron Moore. Moore saw action in Western’s first two games, but was used as the Toppers’ featured back for most of the game.

Moore racked up 134 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries. In his first three collegiate games, he’s collected five touchdowns.

“Lerron just kind of got hot,” Elson said. “So we just kept feeding him the ball.”

The Topper defense has yet to allow a touchdown through their first three games, and they helped the offense blow the game open with a 20-point third quarter.

Western (3-0) led just 13-3 with less than four minutes left in the third quarter, but that was when the game got ugly. Seventeen points in 2:51 gave Western the win.

Moore scored a five-yard touchdown to give the Toppers a comfortable 20-3 lead. Then safety Antonio Thomas made a diving interception on the next Colonel series.

On the ensuing play, quarterback Justin Haddix hit wide out to Casey Rooney for a 41-yard touchdown.

The Colonels (1-3) were called for two personal fouls on the play, which meant Western would kick off from the Eastern 35-yard line.

Leading 27-3, Elson was faced with the decision of whether he should attempt an onside kick.

“We never practiced having it at the 35,” Elson said. ” I didn’t think I’d have the nerve, but that was an easy decision.”

Claybourn tapped the ball straight in front of himself, and as his Topper teammates blocked, he recovered the ball on the 24-yard line.

Four plays later Matt Lange connected on a 38-yard field goal to give Western a 30-3 lead.

Lange set a Western record by connecting on five of his field goal attempts. He hit field goals from 26, 42, 38, 31 and 30 yards. He is 9-for-9 on the season.

With the rivalry blowout in hand, the Toppers will try to carry their momentum and their 13-game winning streak into Saturday’s game at Auburn.

This could be the week the I-AA champs finally stumble. But until the Topper defense allows a touchdown, Haddix, Dandy and their teammates will stay confident.

Reach Danny Schoenbaechler at [email protected]