Things were clicking.
Trailing by 13 late in the third quarter, WKU had driven to the Florida International 23-yard line. Sophomore running back Bobby Rainey took the handoff from redshirt freshman quarterback Kawaun Jakes and cut left on a counter.
He shook a tackle, stiff armed another, but then had the ball stripped by the next defender. The Golden Panthers recovered and turned the fumble into a field goal on the ensuing possession.
It was the first of two turnovers that sealed the victory for FIU, who pulled away late for a 37-20 victory. The Toppers' losing streak now sits at 13 games dating back to last season.
"We'd gotten the run game going and we were hitting it pretty good there," coach David Elson said. "Anytime you turn the ball over, there's no question it's gonna effect the momentum, but especially when you're behind."
The other turnover came on WKU's ensuing possession following the Golden Panthers' field goal. With 13:45 left in the game, Jakes threw a pass over the middle that hit FIU junior linebacker Toronto Smith in the numbers.
After the return, it took the Golden Panthers one play to cash in, as sophomore running back Darriet Perry rushed straight up the middle for the 16-yard touchdown.
"It was very disappointing because we were getting drives and then basically, we shot ourselves in the foot," Jakes said. "We were driving the ball and just killed ourself."
The Toppers spotted FIU an early ten-point lead before Rainey's 16-yard touchdown cut the deficit to 10-7 early in the second quarter.
With the momentum from the touchdown, sophomore kicker Casey Tinius perfectly executed a surprise onside kick, recovering his own 11-yard kick up the middle. But WKU did nothing with the energy from the recovery, going three and out.
"We had really planned that pretty much all week," Elson said. "We said look, we're gonna go into this thing, we felt like it was there. Our philosophy in special teams and really, across the board is, we're gonna study our opponent, if we feel like there's something there that we feel like they're giving us, we're gonna take advantage of it."
The Toppers didn't have to contend much with sophomore wide receiver T.Y. Hilton. Considered by many to be Golden Panthers biggest offensive weapon, he was injured early and made one catch for 31 yards.
Senior quarterback Paul McCall still got the job done with his No. 2 target, junior wide receiver Greg Ellingson. McCall threw for 280 yards, 132 of which went to Ellingson on five catches, one being a touchdown.
The running game also got going for the visitors, with 206 yards.
"McCall made some good throws the whole game," sophomore safety Mark Santoro said. "They got that running game going, so we had to bring that extra guy in the box and then that works the play action. It was kinda just a ripple effect."
Aside from turnovers, the penalties that have riddled WKU all season were abundant again. The Toppers were whistled nine times for 81 yards.
"We've just gotta stay the course, dig a little bit deeper and just keep working hard," Santoro said. "Hopefully good things will come. Obviously, something's not working too, so guys just have to come into practice and really work harder."
After his breakout game in his first career start at Navy, Jakes threw for a more pedestrian 118 yards tonight. He did rush 16 times for 45 yards and a pair of touchdowns. As a team, WKU ran for 263 yards.
"I felt good coming in, I felt prepared," Jakes said. "Throughout the game, we just shot ourselves in the foot on certain plays and it just hurt us throughout. Me, I'm a winner and I just wanna win."
Through the week leading up to the game, Elson said that he felt there was at least one day of the best practicing that the Toppers had all season. The rhythm didn't quite all carry over against FIU.
The potential to fully click in all three areas of the game remains. But getting it to happen on game days has been another thing.
"It's frustrating because we're just not transferring things to Saturday," Elson said. "It felt like, I think we do a good job of evaluating our practices and watching it and really trying to make sure we're practicing at a high level. I thought our guys were starting to really come along and improve. We just made some of those same, shoot yourself in the foot type of mistakes."
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