In a season that could not have started any worse and ended in the most unbelievable of fashions, WKU Rivals takes a look back at the Top 10 moments of the Tops' 2011 football season. There is no question that this year has been one of the most exciting, heart-stopping, successful, unforgettable season in the history of WKU football. Here are moments 1-5:
5) WKU Picks Up First Win of the Season in an OT Thriller at MTSU
Coming into their primetime matchup with arch rival Middle Tennessee State, many fans doubted whether or not the 2011 WKU football team would be better than the 2010 squad that finished with a 2-10 record. The team did show improvement the previous week against eventual league champion Arkansas State, they still left Houchens-Smith Stadium with a 26-22 loss. The Tops righted the ship with a huge 36-33 double overtime victory.
After trading touchdowns in the first half, MTSU took an early second half lead with a D.D. Kyles touchdown run to put the Blue Raiders up 13-7 after WKU blocked the MTSU extra-point. The Tops cut the lead to 13-9 when sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson tackled Blue Raider running back William Pratcher in the end zone for a safety. Senior running back Bobby Rainey closed out the quarter with a touchdown run to give WKU a 16-13 advantage, but the game was far from over.
MTSU tied the score with a fourth quarter field goal, but freshmen kick returner John Evans immediately gave the Tops the lead back with a 90 yard kickoff return to give his team the 23-16 lead. The Blue Raiders forced overtime with a Logan Kilgore touchdown pass late in the fourth.
After the teams traded touchdowns in the first overtime, WKU held MTSU to a field goal on their possession in the second overtime to give the Blue Raiders a 33-30 lead. The Tops responded by driving the ball to a touchdown capped off by a six yard touchdown pass from Kawaun Jakes to Rainey to give WKU their first win of the season.
4) Resurgence of Kawaun Jakes Sparks WKU Turnaround
There is no question that junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes has faced some harsh criticism since he took over the job of the Tops' starting quarterback in 2009. Things did not change through the first four games of the season as he was just 51-92 passing for 523 yards, three touchdowns, and eight interceptions. Jakes at one point lost his starting job to freshmen quarterback Brandon Doughty prior to the Indiana State game, but after Doughty went down with a season ending knee injury that put the ball back in Jakes' hands.
Jakes showed solid improvement in the teams double overtime victory over MTSU throwing for 222 yards and a touchdown. Two weeks later things came to fruition for the junior as he went 15-18 for 242 yards and a score in the team's 42-23 victory over then undefeated Louisiana-Lafayette to snap the team's 18 game home losing streak.
Over the last eight games of the season 102-184 passing for 1331 yards, seven touchdowns, and four interceptions to lead the team to a 7-1 record over that stretch with the team's only loss coming at the hands of the number one ranked LSU Tigers. While the turnaround was a total team effort, the team would have been nothing without the improvement of their quarterback who was called "the most improved player in the FBS" by ESPN 3 analyst during the team's 41-18 defeat of Troy.
3) WKU Become Bowl Eligible with Win at North Texas
While the Tops rivalry might be the most historic rivalry throughout both team's athletic programs since WKU's transition to FBS, the team has developed quite the rivalry with the Mean Green of North Texas. The first three meetings were close matchups that saw the Mean Green emerge victorious each time. The 2010 match-up had all the makings of a great matchup; however, the Tops were embarrassed at losing 33-6. As WKU made the trip to Denton, TX for the team's 2011 matchup, not only were the out for revenge, but they were set on gaining bowl eligibility.
The Tops put together a solid performance and emerged victorious winning the game by a score of 31-21 gaining bowl eligibility for the first time in school history in the process. This game was significant for junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes and senior running back Bobby Rainey as they led the charge for an offense that held ball for 39:45 and gained 483 yards of total offense on the night.
Jakes went 19-29 for 231 yards and a career high three touchdowns on the night playing one of the most complete games of his WKU career. The always consistent Rainey ran for 214 yards and a score on 37 carries in addition to catching four passes for 48 yards and a touchdown. With his numbers Rainey was able to keep his dreams of breaking the school's career and single season rushing titles alive. His performance also moved him into first place in the FBS in rushing yards to go along with the lead in rushing attempts.
2) Bobby Rainey Breaks School Rushing Records
If you were to mention WKU football to anyone across the nation, there is a very good chance that they would respond to your comment with one name: Bobby Rainey. In 2010 Rainey almost single handedly brought respect back to his team's football program who was struggling for an identity after moving into the FBS. Entering his senior season, there was a lot of pressure on the 5-8, 205 pound running back from Griffin, Georgia to take the program to new heights.
Rainey did not disappoint averaging 171.3 yards of total offense and posting a conference leading 17 touchdowns on the season. While his streak of consecutive 100-yard rushing games was broken against Arkansas State, he would go onto put up 1268 yards rushing over his final eight contests to break the school record for carries in a season, single season rushing yards, and career rushing yards.
Bobby had a knack for coming up big when his team needed him coming up with big play after big play and big game after big game when his team needed him the most. He would post a career high three rushing touchdown performance twice on the season on homecoming against Louisiana-Lafayette and Senior Day against Troy. On his Senior Day against Troy, Rainey had his best game of the season rushing for 227 yards and three scores on 43 carries in his final performance at Houchens-Smith Stadium and possibly his final performance in the WKU red and white.
With one week left in the regular season, Bobby leads the nation in rushing yards and rushing attempts. It is unfortunate that things such as conference championship games and bowl games could move Rainey out of that top spot, but Rainey will be the first to tall you that he is not worried about personal success: team success is what matters the most.
Head coach Willie Taggart said at the start of the season "if Bobby be Bobby, we be alright." Bobby was Bobby in 2011 and the team success came. Thanks for the memories Bobby. Hilltopper nation will never forget what you have done.
1) WKU Snaps Home Losing Streak on a Homecoming for the Ages
Coming into the 2011 season, the Tops had not won a game inside the friendly confines of Houchens-Smith Stadium since they defeated Murray State 50-9 in 2008. After dropping their first three home contests of the 2011 season, this brutal home losing streak had climbed all the way to 18 games. Fans were hungry for a win and began growing impatient as the team took the field for Homecoming against Louisiana-Lafayette on Oct. 22nd.
While ULL quarterback Ben Gautier torched the defense for 419 yards through the air, WKU made the stops when it needed and gained 507 yards of total offense to come away with the 42-23 victory. The Tops blew the game wide open in the fourth quarter following a ULL touchdown and failed two point conversion that cut the WKU lead to 28-23. The Tops responded with a six play 54 yard drive set up by return specialist John Evans capped off by Kadeem Jones' one yard touchdown plunge to give the team a 35-23 lead.
With five minutes to play, ULL drove the ball down to the WKU 24 and were primed to cut the lead to just five points. On the next play, Gautier lobbed a pass into the end zone in attempt for the score, but Tops' senior Derrius Brooks made an incredible interception to give the ball back to WKU. The very next play Bobby Rainey took plays in his own hands breaking a huge 56 yard run down to the ULL 24 yard line. Rainey would punch the ball into the end zone on the very next play to put the game out of reach with a 42-23 score. As the clock hit all zeroes, fans stormed the field in pure joy celebrating their team's first win in a long time. For the seniors, it was their first win at home since 2008. Following win, the team would win their final two home games, giving the fans new hope for seasons to come.