After a downpour all morning and afternoon on Saturday, the sun came through and a rainbow made it's way over the skies of Houchens Industries/L.T. Smith Stadium before kickoff. There would be no good luck or pot of gold waiting for the Hilltoppers on this night.
Central Arkansas (1-1) racked up 407 yards of total offense and knocked off the Hilltoppers 28-7 at Houchens Industries/L.T. Smith Stadium on Saturday night, sending WKU's record to 0-3 to start the 2009 season.
"When you lose a game you definitely don't take a step forward," coach David Elson said. "That is a very good football team that we just played. As I said going into it, we would have a good indicator of where we are at, because they are a good football team. Adversity has got to drive you to be even more motivated, even more determined, it's got to bring you together and that is what this is. This is as much as adversity as we have experienced in my time here."
Things started off slow for both teams as they held each other in check in the first quarter. In a complete contrast from the first period of last week's home opener with South Florida, the first quarter this week saw very few penalties and flew by without either team notching a point on the scoreboard.
Things changed quickly after the horn sounded starting the second period as on the second play of the quarter Central Arkansas tailback Leonard Ceaser found a hole and ran 51 yards for the touchdown and a 7-0 lead. It was a lead the Bears would never relinquish.
"It seemed to be just a busted play," said junior linebacker Thomas Majors who led WKU defensively with 9 tackles. "Just things we need to get corrected as a team. The big plays are our mistakes."
On the very next possession WKU quarterback Brandon Smith fumbled on a quarterback keeper giving the Bears possession at their own 36-yard line. The Hilltopper defense would rise to the occasion, forcing a fumble of their own and getting the ball back before relinquishing it again four plays later on a fumble by redshirt freshman Marcus Vasquez.
"I mean we couldn't really put drives together," Smith said. "We put a few plays here and there and it would sputter out. We could never get clicking to put it all together."
Following the trading of fumbles, Central Arkansas drove down the field, converted on a fourth down and two and scored on a six-yard pass from quarterback Robbie Park to Preston Echols to take a 14-0 lead. The lone points for the Hilltoppers came on a four-yard touchdown run by Smith, culminating a 15-play, 77-yard drive. The Bears out-gained the Toppers 188 to 143, including 117 yards on the ground, in the first half and used big plays and timely turnovers to take a 14-7 lead in to the locker room.
"They were getting the better of us in there (in the trentches) but that certainly isn't the only issue that we have," Elson said. "We have got to keep on keeping on. We are a little light up front on defense and we just have a lot of work to do. I feel like we know what our weaknesses are and we have got to as coaches find out what our players do best and keep them away from the things that they are struggling with."
The Bears' passing attack was in top form as well, especially in the second half. Park, who finished with 177 yards and 2 touchdowns, found receiver Darrius McNeal on a 73-yard touchdown strike late in the third quarter increasing the lead to 21-7.
While the Central Arkansas air attack was hitting on all strides, the same could not be said for Smith, who did lead the team in rushing for the second straight game. He finished with only 66 yards passing, no touchdowns and was knocked out of the game in the third quarter with a shoulder injury.
"Yeah, it is just banged up," Smith said. "I will have to see a doctor but I think I will be all right."
Redshirt freshman quarterback Kawaun Jakes came in for the injured Smith and completed 9 out of 14 passes for 75 yards but also was unable to find the endzone.
"I thought Kawaun, he started off a little shaky but he got going there and threw some good balls," said Elson. "I think it was definitely good experience for him. I thought he did some good things… It seemed like he threw some good balls and made some good decisions."
While the Hilltoppers were unable to find the endzone for the rest of the game, the Bears scored again in the fourth quarter off of a Brent Grimes 18-yard run to increase the score to the final total of 28-7.
"There is frustration, just kind of saying alright, how do we fix it," Elson said. "How do we get this thing on the right track. We've got to learn from it and go back and make good decisions to get out of this funk that we are in and ultimately win some games. I told the guys I am looking forward to working through this thing cause when we come out on the other side we are going to be really proud that we hung in there and kept fighting and that we ended up being a good football team in 2009 and a consistently winning football program in the future."
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