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WKU defeats Sam Houston to clinch bowl eligibility

Dominic Di Palermo
Defensive backs Talique Allen (11), left, and Anthony Johnson, Jr. (4) tackle running back Adrian Murdaugh during a game against Sam Houston State University at L.T Smith Stadium in Bowling Green on Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023.

WKU football escaped an upset bid from underdog Sam Houston State on Saturday, taking the win 28-23 and clinching their fifth straight year of bowl eligibility.  

Along with clinching their fifth straight bowl game, the win is the 200th Hilltopper victory inside Houchens-Smith stadium.

Senior quarterback Austin Reed really struggled in the win. Reed turned the ball over five times including a career high four interceptions. However, Reed threw for some impressive numbers in the midst of the struggle, tallying 392 yards and three touchdowns.

WKU’s defense set the tone in the first quarter. The Hilltoppers forced three-and-outs on the three full Bearkat drives in the quarter. However, the offense wasn’t doing the WKU defense any favors. Despite a 45 yard touchdown pass from Reed to open up scoring, the Bearkats defense looked formidable, forcing two interceptions and a three-and-out. 

Offense’s came alive in the second quarter. WKU and SHSU combined for 20 points in the period. The Bearkats found paydirt twice to take an early lead in the quarter, before WKU scored two touchdowns of their own. A late 53-yard field goal from the Bearkats set the halftime tally at 21-16 in WKU’s favor. 

The third quarter was completely controlled by the Bearkats defense. The unit forced two Reed interceptions and held the WKU offense to three first downs throughout the entire quarter. Sam Houston capitalized on one or Reed’s two picks, taking the lead 23-21 at the end of the third.

However, the game quickly turned on its head within two plays in the fourth. Reed found junior Malachi Corley for a 75-yard score to put the Hilltoppers back on top 28-23. On the next play from scrimmage, junior defensive back Anthony Johnson Jr. went up and got the ball for a pick. 

SHSU fought back following the drastic shift in momentum, driving the ball all the way inside the WKU 20. However, Johnson Jr. made another huge play, recovering a fumble that was forced by redshirt freshman defensive end Marcus Patterson to stall the threatening Bearkat drive. 

Sam Houston threatened once more, taking the ball inside the Hilltopper ten with a minute left to play. Four straight stops from the Hilltopper defense put an end to the upset threat, winning the ball game 28-23.

WKU will look to get their seventh win on the year at FIU on Saturday, Nov. 25 at 2 p.m. CT.


1st Quarter

WKU jumped out to 7-0 lead as Reed stepped up in the pocket and found a wide open Dalvin Smith for the score.

2nd Quarter

Sam Houston capped off a 90-yard drive with a 42-yard touchdown pass, PAT missed, 7-6.

The Bearkats struck again on their next drive, this time with a one-yard rush on fourth and goal, 13-7.

Redshirt senior Markesse Stepp forced his way into the endzone for six following the SHSU score, 14-13.

Reed found redshirt senior receiver Craig Burt Jr. in the back corner of the endzone to widen the Hilltopper lead to eight, 21-13. 

Sam Houston kicker Colby Sessums split the uprights as time expired in the half to cut down the Bearkat deficit to five, 21-16. 

3rd Quarter

SHSU capitalized on a pick from Reed, taking a seven yard rush in for the score, 23-21

4th Quarter

Reed found Corley for a 75-yard touchdown that would ultimately win the ball game for the Hilltoppers, 28-23. 


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