It started out about as well as anyone could hope for.
The first two WKU possessions resulted in touchdowns. For nearly three quarters, it continued to go well, with the Toppers mounting a 20-3 lead.
Then in a flash, it all went down hill.
WKU turned the ball over three times in the fourth quarter, resulting in two Arkansas State touchdowns as the Red Wolves rallied for a 24-20 win. The Toppers end the season 0-12, extending their losing streak to 20 games on senior day and the last game as WKU coach for David Elson.
"They started being a little more aggressive on defense," senior wide receiver Jake Gaebler said. "We started off really strong offensively and then really stalled there for the second half and most of the game after those first two drives. I feel like they made some adjustments and were able to put pressure on us and take away some of the things we did in that first quarter. We had some costly turnovers, they scored and we just couldn't recover."
The final two mistakes came courtesy of redshirt freshman Kawaun Jakes. With 5:34 left in the fourth quarter, Jakes was intercepted by freshman linebacker Nick Nelms and returned to the Toppers' four yard-line. The next play resulted in an Arkansas State touchdown.
Jakes also fumbled on WKU's next
possession, with Red Wolves senior defensive end Alex Carrington scooping up the loose ball and rumbling 27 yards for the go-ahead touchdown.
"He's young and everybody makes mistakes," Gaebler said. "Yeah, those are costly turnovers but it wasn't the deciding factor in the game. There's a lot that goes into a game, that effects whether we win or lose. Kawaun's grown and matured each game and he's gonna continue to get better."
Jakes took a number of hits in the second half. On his fumble, Jakes was hit as he rolled right and attempted to pass.
"I told our guys in the locker room, number one, I hated it for the 13 seniors," Elson said. "They deserved better and sometimes there's just no explanation. Sometimes you're just snake-bitten and some bad things happen to good people."
It was a stunning turn of events for a game controlled by the Toppers from the start. Senior running back Tyrell Hayden got WKU on the board with a nine-yard touchdown run, then sophomore running back Bobby Rainey rushed three yards up the middle for a touchdown.
At halftime, the Toppers had out-gained Arkansas State 158-110.
"It's a very tough game," senior linebacker Taurean Smith said. "It's disappointing with the outcome of not winning the game but those guys, they're young and they've got experience now. They're gonna win games next year."
WKU slowed down in the second half, finishing with 235 yards of total offense. The Toppers could muster just a 34-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Casey Tinius in the second half.
The loss ends the Elson era at WKU. Though Elson has known since the announcement came on Nov. 9 that he would not return as coach, Gaebler said Elson remained the same tough, resilient coach.
"Even after finding out the news and going through all that adversity, he continued to approach each practice and each week the same way he would if we didn't find out that news. I respect him for that. He took a business-like approach and continued to work hard and get into film and hold meetings and get after us in practice and I respect him for that. That just shows how much he wanted to win and how much he cared about this place."
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