Hilltoppers drop heartbreaker in Bloomington

Western+Kentucky+University+football+team+steps+onto+Feix+Field+in+Houchens-Smith+Stadium+before+the+2021+homecoming+game+against+the+Charlotte+49ers+on+Oct.+30.

Brittany Fisher

Western Kentucky University football team steps onto Feix Field in Houchens-Smith Stadium before the 2021 homecoming game against the Charlotte 49ers on Oct. 30.

Camden Bush, Sports Reporter

WKU Football (2-1) dropped a heartbreaker in overtime against the Indiana Hoosiers (3-0) 33-30 Saturday at Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, Indiana. 

Special teams turned out to be the difference as the Hilltoppers missed a game-winning field goal at the end of regulation and one in overtime. The Hoosiers, on the other hand, hit a 51-yard field goal in overtime to seal the victory. 

“It was just two great football teams playing back-and-forth,” WKU head coach Tyson Helton said. “When you lose a close one like this, you’re always going to look back at three or four plays you wish you could have back. We’ll try to get better from it today.”

The loss brings the Hilltoppers to 0-9 all-time against Big Ten  opponents and 0-5 against Indiana. WKU lost 33-31 to the Hoosiers last year in what was also a nail-biter. 

Despite the loss, the Hilltoppers offense had a very strong performance. The offensive unit tallied 545 total yards over the course of the game. Graduate transfer quarterback Austin Reed led the WKU effort as he went 33-43 in passing for 329 yards. Reed also posted two passing touchdowns, a rushing touchdown and only one interception. 

Sophomore Malachi Corley led the WKU receiving corps with eight receptions for 77 yards on the day. Sophomore running back Kye Robichaux led the rushing attack for the Hilltoppers as he tallied 135 yards on only 14 attempts. 

While the WKU offense tallied over 500 yards, the defense allowed Indiana to go for 484 yards on the day. Hoosier redshirt junior quarterback Connor Bazelak threw for 364 yards and two touchdowns for Indiana. The WKU defense did force a fumble but the Hoosiers led the turnover battle 2-1. 

1st half

The Hilltoppers started the game with a first down on their opening drive, but failed to put points on the board. The Hoosiers then put together a scoring drive with their first possession. Indiana settled for a 34-yard field goal to make it 3-0 after offsetting unsportsmanlike penalties.

WKU responded with a solid drive that was highlighted by a 21-yard sideline reception. The Hilltoppers failed to score after a 38-yard touchdown was called back on a flag and they failed to convert on a 4th and 5 in IU territory. The WKU defense responded on the next Indiana drive with their own stop on 4th down to give the offense the ball back.

Austin Reed and the Hilltoppers started their next drive at IU’s 49 after the 4th down stop. WKU marched down the field and took a 7-3 lead on a 26-yard touchdown completion to tight end Joey Beljan.

The next Indiana drive started at their own six after a flag on the kick return. Despite the bad field position, the Hoosiers made it past midfield on a 48-yard reception. The drive then stalled out at the WKU 39 and the home team was forced to punt. 

The Hoosiers’ punt pinned the Hilltoppers back at their own two-yard line. WKU then went three-and-out and punted it away to their own 45 yard line. Indiana responded to the favorable field possession with a quick drive that resulted in a five-yard touchdown pass by Bazelak to make it 10-7.

The lead did not last long for the Hoosiers as the Hilltoppers followed the touchdown with one of their own on their next drive. Reed led the offense to the end zone on only three plays in 42 seconds. Daewood Davis capped off the drive with a 44-yard touchdown reception to give WKU a 14-10 advantage.

The Indiana offense then pushed the ball down the field all the way to the red zone with its next possession. Once they got to the red zone, things took a turn for the worse as the Hilltoppers recovered a backwards pass that was deemed a fumble.

Both offenses then went three and out on their next possessions and were forced to punt.

WKU started off its next drive strong with a flea flicker play that went for 26 yards. The Hilltoppers were able to tack on three more points with a 34-yard field goal to make it 17-10 after another touchdown was called back on a holding penalty.

Indiana’s offense drove into WKU territory with a few seconds remaining before the half, but failed to score as a sack took the Hoosiers out of field goal range.

2nd half

The Hoosiers got the ball first out of halftime and put together a 62-yard drive that resulted in a 32-yard field goal, making it 17-13. Reed then responded for the Hilltoppers, leading a 72-yard drive that resulted in his own  rushing touchdown to give WKU a 24-13 lead.

After a three-and-out by the Hoosiers the Hilltoppers had an opportunity to take a comfortable lead, but failed to do so. WKU drove into the red zone thanks to  29 and 19-yard runs by redshirt junior Jakari Moses before Reed tossed an interception in the end zone to give Indiana the ball back.

The following Indiana possession started with a 30-yard completion and ended with a 19 yard rushing touchdown by senior running back Josh Henderson. The Hoosiers then failed to convert a two-point conversion after the 90-yard touchdown drive, keeping the Hilltopper in the lead 24-19.

WKU followed the score with a 27-yard field goal to bring its lead back up to 27-19. The Hilltoppers made it into field goal range on a 59-yard run by Robichaux. 

The Hoosiers were forced to go for it on 4th and 1 in their own territory on their next possession. They were able to convert on that try, but were then forced to punt later in the drive.

Indiana then forced a much-needed turnover on WKU’s next possession. The Hoosiers recovered a Hilltopper fumble at the WKU 16, setting them up with great field position. The WKU defense stood tall with the help of an offensive pass interference call and held Indiana to a field goal, keeping the lead at 27-22.

The Hilltoppers were able to move the ball down the field into the red zone again on their next possession. Robichaux led the way again with a 36-yard run. Once in the red zone, the Hilltoppers were forced to settle for another field goal to make it 30-22.

The Hoosiers responded with a huge touchdown and two-point conversion on their next drive to tie it at 30. Indiana’s drive was aided by back-to-back pass interference calls against WKU and a facemask call. 

The Indiana drive ended with just over 40 seconds on the clock, leaving WKU a little time to start a drive. After the kickoff went out of bounds, Reed led the Hilltoppers all the way into field goal range with a 19-yard run and a couple of passes. 

The Hilltoppers  had a chance to win it but redshirt junior kicker Brayden Narveson missed a 44-yard field goal wide right as time expired. The missed kick sent the game to overtime where each team received  the ball starting on the 25 yard line. 

OT

WKU got the ball first in OT and failed to do anything, going three-and-out. The Hilltoppers then got a field goal chance as the ball started at the opposing team’s 25 in overtime but the Hoosiers blocked Narveson’s attempt. 

Indiana then went three-and-out but was set up with a 51-yard field goal for the win. Indiana senior Charles Campbell hit the game-winning field goal and claimed a 33-30 victory over WKU.

Up next, the Hilltoppers will host the Florida International University Golden Panthers next Saturday at Houchens-Smith Stadium at 2:30 p.m. CT. The contest will kick off C-USA play for the Hilltoppers.

Football reporter Camden Bush can be reached at [email protected]