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WKU Football prepares for Senior Day contest against Sam Houston State

Dominic Di Palermo
Quarterback Austin reed (16) middle celebrates his touchdown with wide receiver Dalvin Smith (17) during WKU’s homecoming game against New Mexico State University at L.T Smith Stadium in Bowling Green on Saturday, Nov. 11, 2023.

WKU football coaches met with the media, Monday, to discuss Saturday’s Senior Day matchup against the Sam Houston State Bearkats.

“We’ve got Sam Houston this week. Big Game,” Head coach Tyson Helton said. “We need to rebound, especially coming off the tough loss last week.”

WKU will kick off the Saturday festivities with a pregame recognition of 13 Hilltopper seniors, including quarterback Austin Reed and running back Davion Ervin-Poindexter.

The Hilltoppers find themselves in a tough 1-3 slide, with their last win coming on the road against UTEP. WKU had a great opportunity to put their season back on track last week against New Mexico State, but a second half onslaught from the Aggies put the Hilltoppers away and  terminated any hopes of a C-USA championship berth for WKU.

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“Guys played hard, they played hard to the very end.” Offensive coordinator Drew Hollingshead said. “There was a lot to like, but for us to win in critical situations and in critical games like that, we’ve got to put four quarters together.”

Sitting at 5-5 on the season, WKU needs one win to clinch bowl eligibility, something that has been done in every year of Helton’s tenure on the hill. Luckily for Helton’s crew, the Hilltoppers cap off the 2023 campaign with arguably their easiest stretch of their conference schedule. Sam Houston and next week’s opponent FIU sit at the bottom of the C-USA standings with a combined 2-11 record in conference games. 

Despite Sam Houston’s rough start to the season that saw them drop their first eight games, the Bearkats head to WKU riding a two-game win streak. Future C-USA member Kennesaw State and current member Louisiana Tech fell victim to two strong Sam Houston performances. 

Over their last four games, the Sam Houston offense has seen significant improvement. The Bearkats have scored a combined 127 points in their last four games following a stretch where they only accumulated 80 points in six contests. 

The air attack has been the primary weapon for the Bearkat offense. Senior quarterback Keegan Shoemaker ranks fifth in the conference in both passing yards (2,038) and touchdowns (14). Over the last two weeks, Shoemaker has thrown for a combined 511 yards and four touchdowns with one pick.

“Offensively, they’ve got a really good quarterback, a guy that can do both – he can throw, and he can run,” Defensive coordinator Tyson Summers said. “It’ll be a big challenge for us this week.”

Defensively, Sam Houston has been solid. The Bearkats rank fourth in scoring defense in the conference, allowing 26.6 points per game. Graduate senior linebacker Trevor Williams has been the leader of the Sam Houston defensive unit. Williams has a team leading 70 solo tackles as well as a pick and a forced fumble on the year. 

Junior linebacker Kavian Gaither is another name to look out for on the Sam Houston defense. Gaither is coming off a week in which he accumulated 12 tackles as well as a forced fumble and a 45-yard pick-six. The impressive performance earned Gaither C-USA defensive player of the week honors. 

WKU will kick off their final home game of the season at 2:30 p.m. CT.

The Hilltoppers are 12.5-point favorites according to ESPN

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

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