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WKU’s homecoming games create cherished memories for athletes and alumni

Rick Loomis / Herald
WKU defenders swarm UCF’s Mark Whittemore in WKU’s 50-36 upset defeat of the No. 19 Knights on homecoming night in 1992.

When WKU’s football program takes the field to face the Charlotte 49ers on Saturday, Oct. 30, it will be the continuation of a cherished tradition on the Hill that has persisted since 1927: The homecoming game. 

Homecoming is a tradition celebrated by all – students, faculty, alumni, Bowling Green residents and the like. The day serves as an opportunity for WKU figures from past and present to meet up to swap stories and bond over their shared experiences on the Hill. 

Over the course of WKU history, the program’s homecoming game has created a long list of memorable moments.

At the first homecoming game in WKU history, the Hilltoppers claimed a 7-6 win over the Louisville Cardinals. 3,500 fans sat in the stands to cheer the Hilltoppers to victory. 

“We didn’t have scholarships or anything – you had to enjoy the game,” Todd Hornback, a former WKU player and coach, said in 1981.

The most unusual play came late in the fourth quarter when WKU held a slim lead.

“Delmar Reynolds went deep, and in those days, the end of the stadium by the Helm Library was open and there was a swimming pool at the bottom of the hill, but the hill was covered with rocks,” Arnold Winkenhofer, the starting quarterback for the Hilltoppers at the time, said in 1981. “I overthrew him, and he ran down the hill and disappeared. Everybody in the stadium was standing, looking for him. He caught the ball, but he had run out of the end zone.” 

Reynolds, miraculously, was not injured.

WKU took on the then-No. 19 Central Florida Knights 65 years later. The Hilltoppers, led by head coach Jack Harbaugh, upset the Knights 50-36 in their 1992 homecoming game. The crowd of 11,000 hopeless fans began to trickle out after trailing 14-13 at halftime.

“This was supposed to be the biggest homecoming, but there weren’t many people here,” Chris Pino, the placekicker for the Hilltoppers at the time, said in 1992.

Pino set a new scoring record the same day. 14 points across three field goals and five extra points was the most points scored in one game by a WKU kicker. 

The Hilltoppers also set a new school record for yards in a game, putting up 593 against the Knights during the upset. The Hilltoppers entered their own homecoming game with a 2-4 record and sent a message to the critics by protecting their home turf. 

“This is our house,” Harbaugh said following the game. “They came across the field yelling and cursing. Well, we sent them back on that bus.” 

You can expect Houchens-Smith Stadium’s 25,000 seats to be filled with alumni, families, students and faculty on Saturday when the Hilltoppers face the Charlotte 49ers, who are ranked one spot above the Hilltoppers in the Conference USA East Division.

The Hilltoppers have the momentum coming into Saturday, riding a two-game winning streak and the hopes of thousands of excited alumni behind them.

Sports reporter Piper McCoun can be reached at [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter @piper_mccoun.

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