Hilltoppers blank Panthers 73-0 to open conference play

WKU+defensive+back+A.J.+Brathwaite%2C+Jr.+celebrates+after+winning+the+game+against+Florida+International+University+at+Houchens+Industries+L.+T.+Smith+Stadium+on+Sept.+24%2C+2022.++WKU+won+73-0+against+FIU.+

Allie Schallert

WKU defensive back A.J. Brathwaite, Jr. celebrates after winning the game against Florida International University at Houchens Industries L. T. Smith Stadium on Sept. 24, 2022. WKU won 73-0 against FIU.

Lynda Eernisse, Football reporter

WKU Football shut out the Florida International University Panthers 73-0 in its C-USA season opener Saturday afternoon at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

The Hilltoppers’ 73-point performance was the second most points scored in school history. WKU’s 73 points was also the most points Florida International has allowed in a single game. Before Saturday’s shut out, the Hilltoppers’ previous greatest margin of victory was 56 points, recorded Nov. 21 , 2015 against FIU.

“It was a really good win for our guys,” head coach Tyson Helton said. “When we talked about going out there and playing at full speed, pedal to the metal, trying to be dominant – those guys really showed up. I’m really proud of our players.”

The Hilltoppers’ offense dominated the Panther’s defense in the conference opener. WKU’s air raid accounted for 477 of 688 total yards of offense. Despite only playing half of the game, graduate transfer quarterback Austin Reed led the Hilltoppers’ aerial assault with 381 yards and five touchdowns while completing 29 of his 35 passes. 

FIU’s secondary had no answer for sophomore wide receiver Malachi Corley. Corley caught three passes for 125 yards and two touchdowns. 

“Malachi was running at a different speed, he was breaking tackles all over the place, running fast,” Helton said.

The Hilltopper defense was just as impressive as the offense. WKU held FIU to 124 yards of total offense and zero points. WKU scored its third defensive touchdown of the season from freshman linebacker Aaron Key’s 48-yard fumble return. 

FIRST QUARTER 

FIU elected to receive the ball after winning the coin toss. The Panthers were forced to punt on their first drive after going three-and-out.

The Hilltoppers started their first drive with an impressive 76-yard touchdown pass from Reed to Corley. 

Junior kicker Brayden Narveson tacked on the extra point, putting WKU up 7-0 with 5:16 left in the quarter. 

To close out the first quarter, the home team secured another touchdown to increase its lead off a nine-yard touchdown pass from Reed to junior tight end Joey Beljan. WKU was up 14-0 at the end of the first quarter. 

SECOND QUARTER

The Hilltopper offense continued to heat up going into the second quarter. FIU’s 50-yard punt put the ball in the hands of WKU. Reed threw a 21-yard score to Corley, putting WKU up 20-0. 

With 8:23 left in the half, Reed threw his third touchdown of the afternoon to sophomore wide receiver Dalvin Smith who ran it 12 yards into the endzone for his first touchdown of the day. The kick from Narveson was good yet again. 

Following this, the Panthers held on to the ball for a few minutes – gaining yards, but they could not push all the way through for a score.

The Hilltoppers’ third touchdown of the quarter came with 4:02 left when junior Davion Ervin-Poindexter rushed for 19 yards.

To close out the second half, redshirt senior wide receiver Daewood Davis came up with a four-yard pass from Reed, setting the score at 42-0 before heading into halftime. 

THIRD QUARTER

Similar to the first half, WKU had its way in the third quarter. Receiving the ball first, the Hilltoppers scored after Ervin-Poindexter rushed for his second touchdown of the game. 

That play, combined with a 30-yard field goal later on from Narveson, put WKU up 52-0. 

Towards the end of the third quarter, Helton decided to make a QB change and put in freshman quarterback Darius Ocean. 

Ocean went on to throw a 44-yard touchdown pass to freshman wide receiver Easton Messer. The score was 59-0 entering the fourth quarter.

FOURTH QUARTER

Freshman quarterback Caden Veltkamp was put on the field for the final 15 minutes of play. Key scored a defensive touchdown after picking up a Panther’s fumble, setting the score to 66-0.

The Hilltoppers scored their final touchdown of the day with a 35-yard rush from freshman running back L.T. Sanders.

“I feel like this was a good game, it really sent a message to Conference USA,” Beljan said.

Next up, the Hilltoppers will host the Troy Trojans Saturday, Oct. 1 at 6:00 p.m. CT. 

Football reporter Lynda Eernisse can be reached at [email protected]