Rice commits six turnovers, WKU receivers feast in senior day victory

WKU+redshirt+senior+wide+reciever%2C+Daewood+Davis%2C+scores+a+touchdown+against+Rice+at+Houchens-Smith+Stadium+on+Saturday%2C+Nov.+12%2C+2022.+WKU+won+45-10.

Sean McInnis

WKU redshirt senior wide reciever, Daewood Davis, scores a touchdown against Rice at Houchens-Smith Stadium on Saturday, Nov. 12, 2022. WKU won 45-10.

Camden Bush, Football reporter

WKU Football (7-4,4-2 C-USA) earned a huge conference win over Rice University (5-5,3-2 C-USA) 45-10 in the final home game of the season Saturday afternoon at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

“Really good win by us today, just really proud of our football team,” head coach Tyson Helton said. “Got bowl eligible today, that’s something that we don’t take for granted here, I think that’s 11 out of 12 years being bowl eligible. That’s a big, big deal here.”

The Hilltoppers’ seventh win of the season came on an eventful day for the team.

The Hilltoppers honored their seniors on senior day and welcomed former quarterback and current New England Patriot Bailey Zappe back to the Hill, who attended the game. The Hilltoppers also sported new helmets which featured Big Red on the sides.

WKU’s top performer on senior day happened to be a senior himself, cornerback Kaleb Oliver. Oliver came up huge for the defense with an interception, a forced fumble and 1.5 tackles for loss. Oliver also recorded seven total tackles and a sack. 

Senior defensive back Tre Shaw also came up big for the WKU defense on senior day. Shaw had an interception and a forced fumble of his own.

Oliver and Shaw were not the only bright spots for the WKU defense as the entire unit had a very strong performance. The Hilltoppers came up with six turnovers, including four interceptions and two fumbles. The unit only allowed ten points of offense.

“I talked to the defense the whole week and really all year, I said we’re led by our defense,” Helton said. “And we knew going into this game that we were going to have to create some of those turnovers, just because they were wanting to hold on to the ball and have long drives, and so we knew we were going to have to do it.”

On the offensive end, a couple graduate students led the way. Quarterback Austin Reed had another explosive game, throwing for 377 yards and four total touchdowns. Wide receiver Jaylen Hall led the receiving corps with 102 yards and two touchdowns.

The WKU receiving corps as a whole was dominant as four different receivers finished the game with at least 75 yards.

First Half

The Hilltoppers received the opening kickoff and quickly worked it down the field. Sophomore Malachi Corley gave the Hilltoppers their first big play of the day with a 36-yard reception and Hall capped off the drive with a 25-yard touchdown reception to give WKU an early 7-0 lead.

Rice followed the score up with a drive that looked promising but came up empty. The Owls drove all the way inside the WKU 25 yard line before throwing an interception at the WKU seven. WKU followed the pick with a methodical drive into Rice territory but the Owls ended it with an interception of their own on third down.

The Owls drove down into WKU territory once again with their next drive, but the Hilltoppers once again stood strong and came down with yet another interception at the goal line.

The following Hilltopper drive started at their own two yard line. WKU brought the ball out to its own 38 before Reed connected with graduate receiver Daewood Davis for a 62-yard passing touchdown to make it 14-0.

WKU’s defense came up big on Rice’s following possession. On third down in their own territory, Rice junior quarterback TJ McMahon fumbled and the Hilltoppers returned it for a touchdown. McMahon’s third straight turnover gave WKU a 21-0 lead. 

Rice’s offense followed the turnover with its best drive of the day. The Owls took the ball 75 yards down field on 13 plays for a touchdown, the only time the visitors found the end zone all afternoon.

Rice senior running back Uriah West punched it in from one yard out to cap off the drive and make it 21-7 with just over 40 seconds remaining in the half. 

Despite only having 40 seconds at its disposal. WKU’s offense added points before the half. The Hilltoppers took a 24-7 lead into the intermission after a 25-yard field goal.

Second half

Rice got the ball first out of the break. The Owls began the second half with a long drive that resulted in a 26-yard field goal. The 14 play, 7 minute and 21 second long drive made it a 24-10 game in the third quarter.

The Hilltoppers responded with a much quicker scoring drive. WKU made it a 31-10 game after a three minute drive resulted in a touchdown. Reed capped off the drive with a rushing score after throwing for completions of 31 and 26 yards on the way down the field.

WKU’s defense followed with a strong defensive stand. The Hilltoppers forced Rice to punt after a quick three-and-out.

The following Hilltopper drive began in Rice territory after a short punt. The Hilltoppers faced a 4th- and-1 at the Rice 26 and decided to go for it. Reed was held short on a quarterback rush and the Hilltoppers turned it over on downs at the end of the third quarter. 

The WKU defense followed the touchdown with another interception. The pick marked the Hilltoppers’ third of the game and their fourth turnover in total.WKU drove the ball all the way down inside the five yard line before fumbling, giving Rice possession at the two.

The Hilltopper defense quickly forced a punt from Rice in their own end zone after a three-and-out. WKU then returned the punt all the way from midfield for another touchdown, making it 38-10 in the fourth.

Rice pushed the ball all the way into WKU territory before turning the ball over for the fifth time in the form of a fumble. 

The next WKU drive went 51 yards and was run-heavy, but it ended with a one-yard receiving touchdown by Hall.

The next Rice drive followed the theme of the day as the Owls drove it into WKU territory before throwing another interception. The Hilltoppers then proceeded to run the ball and kill the clock, claiming a 45-10 win. 

“Got two more to play, got two big games to play,” Helton said. “We’ll see how the conference race finishes up, but I’m very, very happy with the performance that we had today.”

Up next, the Hilltoppers will head to Alabama to face a Power Five opponent in the Auburn Tigers at 3 p.m. CT next Saturday.

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