MURFREESBORO, Tenn.-- Last season, the WKU football team lost a heartbreaker to their long time rival 27-26 in front of a full house at Houchens-Smith Stadium in Bowling Green. In that game the Tops blew a 16 point second half capped off by a Blue Raider touchdown with less than five minutes remaining in the fourth. That was last year!
Tonight will go as one of the greatest games in the history of WKU football as the Tops picked up the 36-33 double overtime win. To makes things sweeter, it came against their most hated rival, in their house, in front of a national audience.
"I told our team heading into overtime that this is when big-time football teams step up, and if they wanted this win to go out and get it," said head coach Willie Taggart. "For our young team to come into a hostile environment and fight through adversity, it can be a big confidence booster moving forward. I'm really proud of these guys and really happy to get this win for Hilltopper nation."
The game could not have started any worse for the Tops. After a promising opening drive, the Tops offense came off the field with no points after senior kicker Casey Tinius missed a 48-yard field goal. MTSU responded with a 69-yard scoring drive capped off by a six yard touchdown run by quarterback Logan Kilgoreto give his team the 7-0 lead. WKU would respond with a 60-yard scoring drive of their own capped off by a goal line plunge by sophomore Kadeem Jones to tie the game at seven in the first quarter.
The next big play for the Tops would come in the third quarter. After allowing the Raiders to take a 13-7 lead, sophomore punter Hendrix Brakefield would pin MTSU on their own one yard line. As they tried to run the ball out of the end zone, sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson stuffed running back William Pratcher, forcing the safety to cut the lead to 13-9.
Just under three minutes later, senior running back Bobby Rainey gave WKU its first lead of the game with a 10-yard touchdown run to make the score 16-13.
Things got interesting in the fourth quarter. After kicker Alan Gendreau tied the game for MTSU, Tops' kick returner John Evans would take the ensuing kickoff 90-yards for the score to give WKU a 23-16 lead.
The Raiders were not to be out done as they scored on the subsequent drive to tie the game at 23. The Tops had multiple opportunities to finish off their rival in regulation. Under a minute to play, the team was flagged twice for 15 yards that prevented a game winning touchdown. Even with those mistakes, Tinius had his opportunity to win the game with a 46-yard field goal, but MTSU blocked the field goal as time expired to force overtime.
Tinius finished the game 0-3 on field goal attempts. He is now 1-6 on the year with his only make coming in the first quarter against Kentucky.
After the team traded scores in the first overtime, the WKU defense made a stand. While their opposition was able to get inside the red zone, the defense was able to hold MTSU to a field goal to give their offense a chance to pick up the win.
After failing to gain any yards on first or second down, the Tops ran a draw play up the middle for Rainey. While the entire Tops' faithful hearts stopped, Rainey was able to pick up 11 yards for the first down. Two plays later, junior quarterback Kawaun Jakes connected with Rainey on a screen for the game-winning touchdown to cap off a thrilling 36-33 win.
"Oh yeah, [I feel real comfortable catching the ball]," said Rainey. "I'm starting to feel like a wide receiver out there, but I better stay as a running back."
Rainey would finish the night with 37 carries for 146 yards and six catches for 57 yards and two total touchdowns. It was fitting that Rainey's number was called to gain the victory, but he did not have to do it alone on the evening.
Kadeem Jones had a huge impact gaining 51 total yards and two scores, which marked the third straight game Jones found the end zone. Tight end Jack Doyle became the first WKU player to gain 100 yards receiving as he caught six balls for 100 yards on the night.
Jakes once again improved in his play completing 17-34 passes for 222 yards and a score. The biggest improvement for Jakes was his interceptions thrown: zero! While he did commit an early fumble, Jakes was able to recover and got the job done for his team.
"[I've been told to] just believe," said Jakes. "I don't care who I'm throwing it to. [All the guys I've been throwing it to] have been good. They've just been going out there and making plays, and the O-line has been protecting me so I can get it to them. It feels great [to get a win like this]. This is an all-time high right here."
Concerning the turnover margin, the Tops won the battle committing just one turnover to MTSU's three. WKU picked off Kilgore twice inside the red zone: once by defensive back Derrius Brooks on the one yard line and the other by linebacker Andrew Jackson. Senior defensive back Ryan Beard also got into the turnover action recovering a Blue Raider fumble to end a promising MTSU drive.
While Jackson was not able to record ten tackles again tonight, he was still a force to be reckoned with recording seven tackles, an interception, a pass break up, and a safety.
"I just give all the thanks to God," said Jackson. "It was tough, but I am just excited right now. We are just all improving as one. We are still a little sloppy, but every week we are going to tighten up and get better.
With the win WKU improved to 1-4 on the season and 1-1 in conference play. The Tops will try to pick up their second consecutive win when they travel to Boca Raton to face the Owls of Florida Atlantic as they open their brand new stadium before returning to the Hill for homecoming against the Ragin' Cajuns of Louisiana-Lafayette.
While many will look ahead to next week, coach Taggart and the rest of the team will celebrate only like WKU can.
"That [win] was for you," said Taggart following the game. "That win was for all Hilltopper nation!"