It goes without saying that WKU's kickers have struggled mightily this season. After senior kicker Casey Tinius connected on the first field goal attempt of the season against Kentucky, the Tops had made just one of their last 10 attempts of the season leading to the replacement of Tinius. With the game on the line against conference foe Louisiana-Monroe, who knew that they would call on freshmen kicker Jesse Roy to end the game?
After defensive back Derrius Brooks picked off the ULM quarterback in the end zone in overtime, Roy had his opportunity to win the game for WKU. Set up by the running abilities of senior running back Bobby Rainey, Roy got his opportunity to connect on an "easy" 24-yard field goal on fourth down. After the Warhawks tried to ice him a timeout, Roy would not be denied and kicked his team to thrilling 31-28 overtime win to spoil homecoming for ULM.
"It feels great to contribute to everything," said Roy. "I really just tried to keep my head straight. Once it left my foot it felt great, but I got to give credit to my line for giving me the time."
While the Tops are more than happy with the win, they will be the first to tell you they should have ended the game in regulation.
The game started off very sloppy with both team being unable to score in the first quarter, but early in the second quarter, the Warhawks broke the tie when they went 57 yards on eight plays to take a 7-0 lead with 13:50 remaining in the half. The drive was capped by Mitchell Bailey's five yard touchdown run.
"We started off a little sluggish," said Rainey. "We can run the ball on anybody and the only thing that stops us is ourselves.
WKU would answer that drive with a six play 63 yard scoring. Freshmen tight end Mitchell Henry caught his second touchdown pass of the season as junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes found him in the end zone for a 13 yard touchdown pass. Henry would finish the game with two catches for 37 yards and that touchdown. Despite the touchdown the Tops were unable to tie the score at seven when Roy's extra point was blocked.
After the defense forced ULM to lose 24 yards on their next drive followed by a dreadful nine yard punt, the WKU offense took control of the ball inside Warhawk territory and made the most of it as they scored to take a 13-7 lead at halftime. Sophomore fullback Kadeem Jones scored from one yard out to put his team ahead. The touchdown was Jones's sixth touchdown of the season and fifth in his last four games.
The second half started much like the first half ended with WKU controlling the tempo on offense and the defense shutting down ULM. The big reason why the Warhawks were unable to get anything rolling for the majority of the game was the WKU pass rush. The defense would finish with six sacks on the day getting numbers from linebacker Andrew Jackson, lineman Quanterus Smith, defensive back Arius Wright, and linemen Jamarcus Allen and Bo Adebayo.
"We got a little more aggressive at the end of the game with our pass rush," said senior defensive lineman Jared Clendenin. "In the end we got the win, that's all we could ask for."
The Tops extended their lead in the third quarter with the help of a nine play, 80 yard touchdown drive that ate up over five minutes of game clock. Rainey was able to give his team a 20-7 lead when he took a quick pass from Jakes into the end zone for a 15 yard score. Bobby would finish the game with four catches for 47 yards and a score to lead the team in receiving.
WKU had many opportunities to extend their lead in the half but shot themselves in the foot with big penalties. After being penalized just once in the first half for no yards, they committed seven penalties in the second half that cost them 66 yards.
Those mental lapses took hold in the fourth quarter and almost gave the Warhawks the game. After ULM cut the lead to 20-14 with a 22 yard touchdown from quarterback Kolton Browning to receiver Colby Haper, WKU looked to ice the game with a punt return; however, freshmen returner John Evans muffed the punt giving the Warhwaks new life. They would turn that miscue into seven points when Browning ran six yards for a touchdown to give ULM a 21-20 lead with under a minute to go.
Evans then made up for his mistake by taking the ensuing kickoff down to the Warhawks' eight yard line. Two plays later Rainey found the end zone to give the Tops a 26-21 lead. Jakes and receiver Boe Brand would then connect for the two point conversion to give WKU a 28-21 lead, but they were far from over.
After getting the ball in great field position, ULM connected a 56 yard pass to give them a first and goal inside the Tops' 10 yard line with nine seconds left in regulation. They would tie the game on the next play when Brown connected with Anthony McCall with six seconds left to tie the game at 28 and send the game to overtime.
The Warhawks would open overtime with possession of the ball and make quick work getting all the way down to the WKU three. On first and goal, ULM went to the air for the score; however, big play machine Derrius Brooks made the play of the day picking off Brown in the end zone to end the scoring threat.
"I kind of knew it was coming," said Brooks. "I saw them run that play last week against North Texas so I knew they would run it. I saw the guy come out there and I just smiled because I knew it was coming my way."
That would give way for Roy to win the game for his team, which he did with the 24-yard field goal. In a season where nothing good could have been said about the Tops' kicking game, Roy gave the team a positive as his kick improved WKU to 4-4 (4-1) on the season and give the team its fourth straight win.
"This was a big win for our program. Our guys kept fighting the whole way and never gave up," coach Willie Taggart said. "In the past, the end of this game might have been a situation where we folded, but that shows the growth and progress of our football team to go out and get the win."
On the day Rainey would finish with 30 carries for 104 yards and score to go along with his four catches for 47 yards and a score. Jakes once again played a solid game as he completed 13-22 passes for 155 yards, two touchdowns, and an interception. Leading the way for the defense was Jackson, Kareem Peterson, and Ryan Beard who all recorded seven tackles on the evening. Clendenin also made a huge impact on the game blocking two ULM field goals early in the contest.
The Tops now return home to face Florida International who is also coming off an overtime win as they defeated Troy 23-20 on Tuesday night. This match-up will have a big say in the conference standings as WKU looks to make it five straight for the first time since 2004 when they beat Indiana State, Illinois State, Southwest Missouri State, Western Illinois, and Florida International in succession.