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Tyson Helton, Hilltoppers pleased with 1-0 start

Evans and Carneiro take home C-USA Player of Week honors
Emilee Arnold
Junior linebacker JaQues Evans (3) celebrates after a touchdown during the contest against South Florida at L.T. Smith Stadium on Saturday, Sept. 2, 2023. WKU won against South Florida 41-24.

Throughout the entire offseason, Conference-USA football pundits were not shy to express their excitement in the 2023 WKU squad. And while they may have been questioning their predictions through the first 15 minutes of yesterday’s season opener, Austin Reed and the Hilltoppers played up to the hype, especially in the second half, in their 41-24 win against the South Florida Bulls. 

“I’m very proud of our football team,” Head coach Tyson Helton said. “To see how our team responded in every clutch, critical situation was fantastic.”

USF dominated the Hilltoppers through the early stages of the game as the Hilltopper offense fell flat early. The Bulls outgained WKU 239-83 and forced three Hilltopper three-and-outs in the first 15 minutes as they took an early 17-7 lead.


Redshirt junior linebacker Desmyn Baker picked off USF quarterback Byrum Brown midway through the first quarter to set up a WKU score, but other than that the Hilltoppers defense did not look all that great either. The unit allowed 139 yards on the ground in the first quarter and allowed another 103 through the air.

To add to the early misfortune for WKU, star receiver junior Malachi Corley came up gimpy following a play late in the first quarter and did not return to the game. 

“Isn’t anything more than some bruised ribs.” Corley stated on his twitter the morning after the game. 

“For him to get hurt it obviously kinda sucks.” Redshirt senior quarterback Austin Reed said. “At the end of the day it’s next man up, grab the rifle, let’s go.”

WKU finally got into their rhythm on both sides of the ball in the second quarter. Following a turnover on downs early in the second, WKU’s offense scored 10 unanswered in the final eight minutes of the quarter. Momentum in the game really seemed to shift as Reed used his legs and took one 16 yards to the house to tie the game up at 17 headed into halftime. 

WKU’s defense was the story in the second half. The unit only allowed seven points in the entire second half, forcing two turnovers and scoring a touchdown of their own. The highlight of the half, and arguably of the entire game, was created by junior linebacker Jacques Evans. Evans rushed the passer on a play late in the fourth quarter, ripping the ball out of his hands, taking it 27 yards for a strip sack score. 

“I knew we had to go out there and close out the game.” Evans said. “I consider myself one of the big-time players, so I had to make a big-time play.”

That play, along with seven tackles and a pass breakup, earned Evans the C-USA defensive player of the week honors. 

WKU’s offense also had a solid second half. Reed threw for 174 yards and two touchdowns in the half, including his best throw of the game, airing it out to redshirt freshman Moussa Berry for a 51-yard touchdown. 

“We felt good about where we were moving after the second quarter.” Reed said. “We felt like eventually we could wear them down and I feel like we did.”

Special teams were also a factor for the Hiltoppers in the contest. Redshirt-freshman Lucas Carneiro was perfect in his first game as a Hilltopper, going five for five on PAT’s and hitting two field goals. The fantastic start to his career on the hill earned him C-USA special teams player of the week honors. 

WKU will look to make it two in a row as they face FCS opponent Houston Christian Saturday, September 9, at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.

Football reporter Jake McMahon can be reached at [email protected].

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