A Tale of Two Halves: WKU Rallies, Wins Sun Belt Opener 26-13
Facing a 13-point halftime deficit and an apparent knee injury to starting quarterback Kawuan Jakes, the WKU Hilltoppers scored 26 unanswered second half points to win their Sun Belt conference opener against Arkansas State.
WKU running back Antonio Andrews rushed 29 times for 215 yards and a touchdown, and second-string quarterback James Mauro completed eight of his 12 passes for 104 yards and two touchdowns in the second half.
Jakes was reportedly seen wearing a knee brace on the WKU sideline after being tackled on a running play. The seriousness of his injury is unknown at this time.
Mauro, a 6'7" redshirt freshman from Texas, proved to be more than a capable fill-in for Jakes, providing an exciting glimpse of the future for WKU football fans.
"I said back in training camp that we had three quarterbacks we could play and win with. James showed that tonight," said WKU head coach Willie Taggart. "His teammates rallied around him, and he played with a lot of poise and confidence."
The Hilltoppers are now 4-1 for the first time since 2005. It didn't look like WKU's night early in the game, however.
The Hilltopper offense repeatedly stalled in the first half, resulting in a series of punts. Arkansas State kicked two field goals to lead 6-0 before scoring the game's first touchdown with just ten seconds left in the first half.
The second half proved to be a different story for both teams.
"Our guys came out in the second half and played WKU football," said Taggart. "At halftime, I told our defense they should be really proud of the way they were playing, and challenged our offense. I'm really proud of the way they responded."
WKU finally got on the scoreboard with six minutes left in the third quarter, when Mauro hit tight end Mitchell Henry for a one-yard touchdown pass. That duo connected less than two minutes later on a 22-yard touchdown toss. WKU led 14-13 and never looked back.
WKU's offensive line appeared to wear down the Arkansas State defense, with huge openings appearing midway through the second half for Hilltopper running backs. Antonio Andrews benefited from those efforts, racking up second half yards and scoring on a two-yard run with five minutes left in the game.
Two Garrett Schwettman field goals rounded out the scoring for WKU.
The Hilltoppers have a bye week heading into the WKU fall break holiday and will next play at Troy, on Thursday, October 11.
The WKU football team opens conference play Saturday at the highest point in the program's recent history. The Hilltoppers bring a 3-1 record into their game against Arkansas State, with a dominating performance over Southern Mississippi and first-ever victory against Kentucky already under their belt.
The website Bleacher Report says WKU's Sun Belt opener might as well be called the "Rodney Dangerfield Game of the Day."
If the Hilltopper defense hopes to clamp down on Arkansas State's offense, they'll have to do so without the help of star safety Jonathan Dowling, who is suspended for Saturday's game.
The importance of this game isn't lost on the Arkansas State players, who bring a 2-2 record into Saturday's contest. The Red Wolves are the defending Sun Belt conference champs, a title WKU hopes to hold by the end of the season.
WKU has a week off after Saturday's game, and will travel to Troy for their second Sun Belt game on Thursday, October 11.