The WKU football team gave the homecoming crowd reason to cheer in the first half of their Sun Belt matchup with Louisiana-Monroe, then sent the fans home dejected as the Warhawks won in overtime, 43-42.
The Hilltoppers led in the first half 28-7, but gave up the game-tying touchdown with 31 seconds left in regulation.
Here are the gory details, courtesy of WKU Athletic Media Relations:
Louisiana-Monroe erased a 28-7 first-half deficit, tying the game twice in the second half before converting a two-point try in overtime to spoil WKU’s homecoming with a 43-42 win Saturday at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
The loss snapped a four-game win streak for the Hilltoppers as they fell to 5-2 overall and 2-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. ULM improved to 5-2 and took over sole possession of first place in the conference standings with a 3-0 league record.
After ULM pulled even for the first time at 28-28 early in the fourth quarter, both teams came up empty on each of their next possessions as WKU got the ball back with 7:08 to go in regulation. The Hilltopper proceeded to march 64 yards in 10 plays, eating up 4:47 of the clock. WKU was able to keep the drive alive with a 4th-and-9 completion from Kawaun Jakes to Jack Doyle, and Jakes hooked up with Willie McNeal on a 20-yard completion down to the two-yard line. Antonio Andrews scored on the next play to put WKU back in front 35-28 with 2:29 remaining.
After a holding penalty on the kickoff pushed the Warhawks back to their 10-yard line, Andrew Jackson sacked Kolton Browning at the two on first down. Facing a third-and-nine, Browning rushed for six yards, and a personal foul penalty on the Hilltoppers kept the drive alive for ULM. Back-to-back long completions of 20 and 28 yards moved the Warhawks down to the WKU 12, and Browning hooked up with Rashon Ceasar on a 12-yard scoring pass to tie the game at 35-35 with 31 seconds left. WKU was able to move the ball near midfield before time expired and the two teams went to overtime for the second straight year.
The Hilltoppers got the ball first in the extra session, and got a quick Jakes-to-Doyle completion for 16 yards on the first play to move down to the nine yard line. Jakes then scored on a nine-yard run to give WKU a 42-35 lead.
On the second play of their possession, the Warhawks got a 20-yard completion from Browning to Je'Ron Hamm to move down to the three, and Browning was able to score two plays later to move ULM within one. The Warhawks went for the win, and after being pressured and scrambling, Browning was able to find and open Ceasar in the end zone for the game-winning conversion.
Jonathan Dowling came up with big plays on both team’s first offensive play of the game. Lining up at wide receiver on the game’s first play, Dowling juggled and hauled in a 39-yard reception from Jakes to quickly move the Hilltoppers into ULM territory. Five plays later, Jakes hooked up with Willie McNeal on a 22-yard scoring pass as WKU jumped in front 7-0 just 3:40 into the game.
Back on the field as the starting safety on defense, Dowling picked off a Browning pass on the Warhawks’ first play to quickly get the WKU offense back on the field. In fact, ULM would run just four offensive plays in the first quarter for nine total yards as the Hilltoppers were on the field for 13:03 in the opening period.
After a Justin Manton punt pinned the Hilltoppers at their own one yard line, WKU ate up over eight minutes of clock to take a two-score lead early in the second quarter. The Toppers converted three third downs on the drive before Jakes threw his second touchdown of the half — connecting with Doyle on a 12-yard scoring strike to put WKU in front 14-0 with 13:08 to go in the second quarter.
A 51-yard kickoff return by Cortney Davis, and a 15-yard penalty on the Hilltoppers after the play gave ULM a short field to work with, and it was able to quickly take advantage. Browning was able to lead the Warhawks on a four-play, 32-yard scoring drive, connecting with Hamm on a 16-yard scoring strike to get cut the WKU to 14-7 with 11 minutes remaining before halftime.
Antonio Andrews quickly answered for the Hilltoppers and he rattled off a 58-yard kickoff return of his own to set up the Hilltoppers in ULM territory at the 32-yard line. After 12 rushing yards and a 15-yard pass interference penalty, WKU found it with a first-and-goal at the five. Jakes then found Austin Aikens in the corner of the end zone as the freshman made a leaping grab for his first career TD to put the Hilltoppers in front 21-7 at the 8:37 mark of the quarter.
The WKU defense forced their second turnover of the half as Cam Thomas intercepted Browning and setting up the offense at the 18 yard line. WKU needed just three plays to find pay dirt again as Jakes threw his fourth touchdown of the half — and second to Doyle — as the two hooked up from 19 yards to make it a 28-7 score with just under six minutes remaining in the half.
Browning was able to make things happen with both his arm and legs on ULM’s next possession as it was able to cover 75 yards to cut the WKU lead in half. The Warhawk quarterback completed three passes for 36 yards, and also rushed for 41 yards. That included a 20-yard scoring rush to make it a 28-14 score with 3:20 on the clock.
The Warhawks were able to top WKU on fourth down, taking over at their own 36 with just 1:07 left before halftime. The Warhawks were able to move down field, and as time expired Bowling connected with Davis on a 30-yard scoring pass to cut the Hilltopper lead to 28-21 at intermission.
The third quarter brought about missed opportunities for both teams. The Warhawks were able to drive deep into Hilltopper territory before a stop on third down forced a field-goal try. However, ULM faked the try, and Thomas broke up a pass in the end zone to help WKU maintain its seven-point lead. On the ensuing drive it was the Hilltoppers that advanced down near the goal line, but a fumble at the 10-yard line turned the ball back over the ULM as it remained a 28-21 score heading into the fourth quarter.
WKU was forced into a punting situation early in the final period, but a low snap forced Hendrix Brakefield’s knee to the ground, giving the ball back to the Warhawks at the Hilltopper 46-yard line. ULM needed just seven plays and 2:23 to cover that distance as Browning capped the drive with a 16-yard scoring pass to Colby Harper as ULM came all the way back to knot the score at 28-28 with 11:23 remaining in the final period, and setting up the events of the closing minutes of regulation and halftime.
Jakes finished the game completing a career-high 25 of 32 passes for 308 yards and four touchdowns. He became the first 300-yard passer for WKU since J.J. Jewell threw for 357 yards against Central Florida on Sept. 24, 1994. He connected with McNeal seven times for a career-best 120 yards, while Doyle finished with six catches for 82 yards and two scores. Andrews rushed for over 100 yards for the fifth straight game, finishing with 104 yards on 21 carries.
For ULM, Browning completed 22 of 41 passes for 308 yards and four TDs, hooking up with four different receivers on those scoring throws.
The Hilltoppers will be back on the road next Saturday (Oct. 27) as they visit Florida International for a 5 p.m. (CDT) contest in Miami. The game will be televised on ESPN3.