Keshawn Simpson ran for a pair of 3-yard touchdowns and Antonio Andrews added his own 3-yard score as Western Kentucky beat Kentucky 35-26 Saturday night making coach Bobby Petrino a winner in his debut.
The Hilltoppers also beat their in-state rival for a second straight year, though they didn't need overtime like they did last year in this win over the Southeastern Conference program. They outgained Kentucky 487-419 in total offense and held the ball for 35 minutes.
The loss ruined Kentucky coach Mark Stoops' debut. Coordinator Neal Brown's Air Raid offense struggled against a Western Kentucky defense returning seven starters from a bowl team that went 7-6 last season in the Sun Belt Conference.
Brandon Doughty was 27 of 34 for 271 yards and a TD, numbers that would have been better except for at least four drops including a would-be touchdown.
Petrino's debut was everything Western Kentucky wanted from the coach's first game. Arkansas fired Petrino in April 2012 for misleading school officials about a motorcycle accident that eventually revealed his mistress was a passenger and employed by the coach. He remains undefeated in season openers, improving to 9-0.
When Petrino has had more than a week to prepare for an opponent, he is nearly unbeatable with a record now 28-8 in such games. The former Louisville coach also now is 5-1 against Kentucky with his lone loss coming while at Arkansas. He'll have a chance to go 2-0 against the SEC when the Hilltoppers visit Tennessee next.
The Hilltoppers decked the end zones with red banners to help make themselves at home in LP Field, home to the NFL's Tennessee Titans. They also had plenty of fans also on hand too with a crowd of 47,623.
Western Kentucky took control from the start and scored on three of the first four possessions. Western Kentucky went 75 yards or longer on each of the TD drives with Simpson scoring on a pair of 3-yard runs, the second putting the Hilltoppers up 21-10 in the second quarter.
Andrews also had a 3-yard TD. But the senior running back who ran for 1,728 yards last season also lost two fumbles that Kentucky turned into 10 points to trail only 21-17 at halftime. Leon Allen replaced Allen and ran 10 times for 92 yards and a 14-yard TD early in the fourth quarter for a 35-17 lead.
The Wildcats had to settle for a 22-yard field goal by Joe Mansour off the first fumble recovered by Avery Williamson. Jalen Whitlow ran 50 yards the play after Andrews' second fumble, and Jonathan George capped the 64-yard drive with a 5-yard TD to pull within 21-17 late in the first half.
Stoops put in Maxwell Smith after Western Kentucky went up 35-17. Smith drove the Wildcats to a 30-yard field goal by Mansour and he connected with Demarco Robinson on a 34-yard TD pass with 1:37 left. But Western Kentucky safety Jonathan Dowling stripped Ryan Timmons of the ball with 6:33 left, and the Wildcats' last gasp ended when an onside kick attempt went out of bounds.
Petrino made sure the Hilltoppers got to kneel down and run out the last seconds. On fourth-and-2, he took a timeout, then had Doughty throw for a 17-yard completion to clinch the victory.