Corley, Davis carry Hilltoppers to victory in 2022 season opener


Tucker Allen Covey / College Heights Herald

Sophomore wide receiver Malachi Corley scores a touch down in the first quarter during a matchup against Austin Peay on Feix Field in Bowling Green, Ky. on Aug. 27. WKU won 38-27.

Camden Bush, Sports Reporter

The WKU Hilltoppers (1-0) defeated the Austin Peay Governors (0-1) 38-27 in the first FBS football game of the 2022 regular season Saturday afternoon at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

“It’s always good to open the season with a big win,” head coach Tyson Helton said. “Hats off to Austin Peay,  I thought they were a good football team. Very, very challenging game for us, a lot of good things, a lot of things we need to correct.”

The Hilltoppers high-powered offense did not seem to lose a step from last season. WKU totaled 387 yards of total offense, 108 yards on the ground and 287 yards through the air. 

Following the departure of star quarterback Bailey Zappe to the NFL, graduate transfer quarterback Austin Reed had a solid debut in red and white.

Reed threw four touchdowns and only one interception for 276 yards in first game on the Hill. He also completed 20 of his 34 passes.

Sophomore wide receiver Malachi Corley led the way for the Hiltoppers’ receiving corps. He scored three receiving touchdowns to go along with 61 yards of offense. Redshirt senior Daewood Davis also had a great afternoon, tallying 124 receiving yards and a touchdown.

“We’ve got a great connection on and off the field. It makes it a little easier being out there with someone you trust,” Corley said about Reed.

WKU’s defense and special teams also had a solid day. Despite allowing 27 points, the unit came up with four turnovers that eventually led to 21 points on the scoreboard.

First Half

The Hilltoppers’ offense began the game with a first down on their first drive but the home team was eventually forced to punt. WKU’s defense responded with an interception at midfield by junior defensive back A.J. Brathwaite Jr.

WKU’s offense then responded with an impressive drive that started with a 15 yard run on an end-around. Austin Reed threw his first touchdown as a Hiltopper, a 16-yard pass to Corley, to take a 7-0 lead.

The Governors bounced right back after the Hilltopper touchdown with a 47-yard drive that resulted in a 41-yard field goal, making it a 7-3 ballgame.

Austin Peay then followed up a quick punt by the Hilltoppers with a 44-yard touchdown on a screen pass to sophomore Drae Mccray, giving the visitors a 10-7 lead.

Austin Peay’s lead did not last long as Reed led the Hilltoppers to seven more points in their next drive. Reed completed three straight passes to put up another Hilltopper touchdown, Corley’s second on the day, giving WKU a 14-10 lead.

Both offenses stalled out on their next drives as each team went three-and-out. After another three-and-out by the Hilltoppers, cornerback Upton Stout picked off the first pass of the next drive and took it into the end zone for a pick-six. 

The Austin Peay offense responded with a 60-yard drive that ended with a one-yard touchdown run to close out the first half. The Hilltoppers held on to a 21-17 lead entering halftime.

Second Half

Both teams came out of the gates a little slow after halftime. Both squads went three-and-out on their first possessions.

Austin Peay returned a punt back to the WKU 41 and proceeded to hit a 49 yard field goal to make it a 21-20 game.

Both teams failed to make much progress on their next drives as each team was forced to punt. 

After a quiet third quarter, WKU’s offense came back to life in the fourth. Corley caught a 25 yard touchdown early in the quarter for this third touchdown of the game, giving WKU a 28-20 lead.

The Hilltoppers forced a fumble at midfield and Reed responded with another touchdown pass, this time finding Davis for a deep 48-yard reception. 

Reed threw his first pick of the day at the 9:05 mark of the fourth quarter. Austin Peay then brought out a little trickery, completing a deep flea-flicker. Austin Peay quarterback Mike Dileillo threw a 24-yard touchdown to set the score at 35-27, a one-possession game.

WKU responded with a 23 yard field goal to put the game out of reach. The Governors then proceeded to fumble the kick-off, allowing WKU to kill the rest of the clock and seal its 38-27 victory.

Up next, the Hilltoppers will fly out to Hawaii to face off against the Rainbow Warriors on Sept. 3 at 11 p.m. CT.