Late interception seals WKU win over conference foe UAB


Tucker Covey

WKU redshirt freshman defensive back Upton Stout (21) on a drive during a matchup with UAB at Feix Field on Friday, Oct. 21, 2022. WKU won 20-17.

Camden Bush, Football reporter

WKU Football (5-3, 3-1 C-USA) capped off a big day on the Hill with a 20-17 victory over the UAB Blazers (4-3, 2-2 C-USA) Friday night at Houchens-Smith Stadium.The Hilltoppers overcame an early deficit en route to a big conference win.

“I was telling the guys before the game, it’s massive, this win was massive,” senior quarterback Austin Reed said. “If we would have lost this game, it would have been two losses in the conference.”

NBA Hall-of-Famer Shaquile O’Neal kicked off the festivities at WKU with a pregame concert, performing under his stage name “DJ Diesel”. The game then took place in front of an announcer crowd of over 16,000 fans.

The Hilltopper defense willed the team to a hard-earned victory. The defensive unit came up with three big forced fumble recoveries and a late game interception that helped seal the win.

“A big win for our team tonight,” head coach Tyson Helton said. “I cannot say enough about our defense. They were fantastic against a really, really good UAB offense.”

Freshman running back L.T. Sanders had a breakout game as he led the Hilltoppers to victory offensively. Sanders, who only had five carries on the season coming into the game, put up 120 rushing yards on 16 attempts.

Despite only throwing for 128 yards, Reed had a great day running the ball as he put up two rushing touchdowns.

“We went in with the mindset we need to run the football and try to control the clock,’ Helton said. 

First Half

The Hilltoppers received the opening kickoff of the game, but promptly punted it away to UAB after a quick three-and-out.

The Blazers began their first drive at their own 36 after a punt. On third down, UAB drew first blood with a 59-yard passing touchdown by junior Dylan Hopkins to redshirt junior Samario Rudolph. 

WKU started its second drive facing a 7-0 deficit after the touchdown and failed to score again. The Hilltoppers drove all the way to the 30 with the help of a 21-yard reception by redshirt senior Daewood Davis. Junior kicker Brayden Narveson failed to convert a 49-yard field goal. 

Following the missed field goal, the Hilltopper defense came up big with a forced fumble recovery at the UAB 42 yard line. Despite the favorable field position the Hilltoppers failed to score for the third straight drive and were forced to punt again.

Freshman punter Tom Ellard pinned the Blazers back at their own five yard line to start their third possession of the game. UAB managed to bring the ball out to their own 47 before the WKU defense came up with yet another big forced fumble recovery.

Redshirt junior Davion Ervin-Poindexter began the next Hilltopper drive with a 19-yard run. Reed then capped off the 58-yard drive with a 20-yard rushing touchdown to make it 7-7. The Blazers responded with a 36-yard field goal to make it 10-7 on a drive that was highlighted by a 64-yard run by junior DeWayne McBride. 

WKU’s offense coughed up the ball for the first time of the night on the following drive. Ervin-Poindexter fumbled the ball and the Blazers recovered it at the WKU 27 yard line. UAB’s offense capitalized on the good starting field position and made it a 17-7 game on a 14-yard passing touchdown by junior backup quarterback Jacob Zeno. 

The Hilltopper offense then responded with a drive that ended in three points to cut the deficit to 17-10. Sanders highlighted the drive with a 22-yard run. Both teams failed to score again in the first half as each team put together a brief drive in the 1:41 remaining.

Second Half

The Blazers got the ball first out of the gate in the second half and failed to score, gaining only one first down on the drive.

The Hilltoppers responded with a methodical drive down the field that resulted in a field goal. The 44-yard make capped off a drive that took over six and a half minutes. WKU still trailed 13-17.

UAB then got the ball back and drove past midfield before WKU forced another fumble. The Hilltoppers returned the fumble all the way to the UAB 5-yard line to set up great field position. Reed punched it in from one yard out for his second rushing touchdown of the night, making it 20-17 in favor of the Hilltoppers. 

Both teams failed to score on their next drives as the Blazers went three-and-out and the Hilltoppers were forced to punt despite moving past midfield. 

The Blazers went three-and-out yet again on their next drive, which forced a punt that the Hilltoppers returned all the way past midfield. Despite the good field position the Hilltoppers were forced to punt again. 

UAB put together a drive that took the visitors all the way to the WKU ten-yard line thanks to a 28-yard run by McBride and a facemask penalty. 

Once the Blazers made it to the ten, redshirt junior defensive back Kahlef Hailassie came up with a game-sealing interception with just under six minutes remaining in the game. 

The Hilltoppers were then able to run out the remaining time with a few big runs, resulting in a 20-17 victory.

“Kahlef has had a fantastic season so far,” Helton said. “Came up at a critical time with the interception. They were going to kick the field goal to tie the game. When we needed it most he made a big play for us.”

Up next, the Hilltoppers host North Texas for homecoming next Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT in another big conference matchup.

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