Graham Wilbert threw for 257 yards and a pair of touchdowns, and Florida Atlantic was able to force four WKU turnovers in a 37-28 victory over the Hilltoppers Saturday afternoon at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. The loss dropped WKU to 6-4 overall and 3-3 in the Sun Belt Conference.
The Hilltoppers were able to march down the field on the opening drive of the game, covering 78 yards in 10 plays. Kawaun Jakes was 4-for-4 passing on the drive, but it was his 25-yard rush on a bootleg that moved the ball down to the FAU two yard line. Antonio Andrews scored on the next play to put WKU in front 7-0 with 9:18 to go in the opening quarter.
The Owls were the benefactor of a short field on their second possession thanks to a 48-yard Travis Jones put return that set up the FAU offense at the Hilltopper 30 yard line. It took just eight plays for Florida Atlantic to get on the board, getting a one-yard scoring run from quarterback Wilbert to knot the score at 7-7 at the 13:14 mark of the second quarter.
The score remained deadlocked until late in the second quarter when the Hilltoppers were able to put together a 10-play, 54-yard scoring drive to regain the lead. Andrews carried most of the load on the drive, carrying 34 yard, but it was Jakes who ended the drive with a six-yard scoring pass to Willie McNeal, putting WKU back in front 14-7 with 4:02 remaining before halftime. However, Florida Atlantic was able to march back down the field, and get a six-yard scoring pass from Wilbert to Daniel McKinney with 14 seconds on the clock to send the teams to the locker room tied up once again at 14-14.
The Owls were able to control field position in the third quarter, forcing WKU to start deep in its own territory on each of the first three drives. The Hilltoppers picked up just two yards of offense on the three possession, and a Keith Reaser interception at the Hilltopper 23 gave FAU a short field in a tie game. It took the Owls just three plays to take their first lead of the game as Wilbert found McKinney again, this time on a 20-yard scoring pass to put FAU in front 21-14 with 3:51 to go in the third.
After the Hilltoppers were unable to convert a fourth-down play near midfield, FAU was able to add a 47-yard field goal from Mitch Anderson to stretch its advantage to 24-14 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter.
WKU was able to pull with three with a four-play scoring drive that used just 1:08 of clock as Jakes connected with Andrews on a 24-yard scoring pass to make it a 24-21 game with still 13:08 left.
The Hilltopper defense was able to get quick three-and-out, giving the offense the ball back near midfield. The eight-play drive stalled at the 14-yard line, but a 32-yard field goal attempt sailed wide right as the Owls maintained the three-point lead with 7:59 to play. FAU was able to drive 80 yards and eat up nearly five minutes before Damian Fortner scored from four yards out to stretch the lead to 31-21 with 3:09 to play.
FAU appeared to have the game sealed after in interception, but with FAU set up at the 12-yard line, Andrew Jackson forced a fumble that was recovered by Quanterus Smith and returned 75 yards for a touchdowns, cutting the Owl lead to 31-28 with 1:55 to go. FAU recovered an on-sides kick, and despite doing three-and-out was able to run the game clock under 30 seconds. A Sean Kelly punt rolled out of bounds at the two-yard line, giving WKU 98 yards to go with no timeouts. The Hilltoppers set up a hook-and-latter play, but Reaser was able to run in the middle of the lateral, and run it in for a nine-yard touchdown, sealing the nine-point victory with five ticks remaining.
FAU outgained the Hilltoppers 355-288 in total offense for the game, holding WKU to just 126 yards in the second half. Jakes completed 14 of 26 passes for 169 yards and two scores, hitting Andrews three times for 71 yards. Andrews also rushed for 88 yards in the game, ending his streak of seven consecutive 100-yard rushing performances. Defensively, Jackson posted a career-high 19 tackles to lead the WKU defense, while Cam Thomas added 13 stops. In addition to his fumble recovery and touchdown, Smith recorded his 24th career sack, which ties the Sun Belt Conference record.
WKU will hit the road for one final regular-season road contest next Saturday (Nov. 17) when it visits Louisiana-Lafayette for a 6 p.m. (CST) kickoff. The matchup between the Hilltoppers and Ragin’ Cajuns will be televised on ESPN3.