Though Louisiana-Lafayette had the ball and the lead, all WKU had to do to get a crack at a tie was to force a punt.
But the defensive woes that have plagued the Toppers all year, showed up again on the drive. The visiting Ragin' Cajuns picked up a pair of first downs to run out the remaining 5:07 of the game in holding off WKU 30-22.
The Toppers defense had trouble stopping Louisiana-Lafayette for much of the game. The Cajuns converted 12 of 19 third downs, rushed for 230 yards and had the ball for 37:48.
"They just dominated," sophomore safety Mark Santoro said. "They ran the ball on us at will. But the thing was, they kept getting five yards, six yards so they put themselves in second and five or third and one. They were able to convert a ton of third downs from that. When we can't get the ball back to the offense, that's all on us."
Down 30-14 in the fourth quarter, WKU got in the end zone on a 23-yard pass from redshirt freshman quarterback Kawaun Jakes to senior wide receiver Jake Gaebler. The Toppers converted the two-point conversion on a run up the middle by sophomore Bobby Rainey to cut the score to 30-22.
Trusting his defense, coach David Elson elected to kick the ball off. But the defense couldn't make the stop on that final Louisiana-Lafayette drive.
"We thought about (an onside kick), we talked about it," Elson said. "With 5:11 left and a timeout, we had gotten one or two three and outs, we felt like we could get 'em stopped. If we did, there was plenty of time left. That's kinda right there in the in-between."
WKU's offense looked to help out the defense early. For the first time since the South Florida game, the Toppers scored first as Jakes found junior tight end Rod Johnson on a crossing pattern over the middle for a 29-yard touchdown just 1:32 into the game, on the opening drive.
Louisiana-Lafayette responded with 20 straight points. After a Jakes interception at the Cajuns' 41-yard line late in the first quarter, the Cajuns scored their second touchdown of the night, on a 19-yard pass from sophomore quarterback Chris Masson to freshman wide receiver Javone Lawson.
Jakes completed nine of 17 passes for 141 yards and two touchdowns on the night, but his second interception was just as costly. In the third quarter, he was intercepted at the Louisiana-Lafayette 29-yard line, killing a drive that began on the Cajuns 49-yard line following a solid kickoff return by junior Dexter Taylor.
"They disguised their plays very well," Jakes said. "The second interception, it looked like they were bringing the house. Then they just dropped back. It was a bad play by me, personally."
Aside from Jakes' interceptions, WKU also fumbled a kickoff in the second quarter that turned into a Cajuns field goal. But the Toppers rash of penalties that had cursed them this season subsided for the most part. WKU was whistled just twice for 15 yards.
But gaffes not showing up in the stats were still being made.
"It's the same mistakes over and over again," Gaebler said. "Penalties, turnovers, the main thing is just getting in the film room watching film, learning from our mistakes and then executing them all week long during practice. Hopefully, that'll carry over into Saturdays and eliminate some of those mistakes."
With the errors somewhat corrected though, the bigger onus might lie with the defense. WKU again finished without a sack. The Toppers have just two on the season, the fewest in FBS, but Elson said the defense is inching closer and closer to getting to the quarterback and bumping up that stat.
"Tonight, boy we were so close," Elson said. "We hit him right as he was releasing the ball. I've gotta give him credit. He stood in there and took a couple of hits and made some nice third down throws where we hit him. We've just gotta keep working on attack and protections and winning one on one battles."
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