Bowling Green, Ky. - The winning streak for the Western Kentucky University football team has now reached three games as the Hilltoppers picked up their first home victory since Sept. 20, 2008 with a 42-23 victory over Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday night at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium in the 2011 homecoming game.
Bobby Rainey picked up 99 of his 206 rushing yards in the fourth quarter, and had his first career three-touchdown game as WKU improved to 3-4 overall and 3-1 in Sun Belt Conference play.
"This is a great win for our guys, our University and our fans. I'm really proud of the way our entire team got themselves ready and took care of business," said Hilltopper head coach Willie Taggart. "Louisiana-Lafayette got some big plays on us in the first half. We talked about it at halftime, and we locked things down after that."
Leading 35-23 late in the fourth quarter, Derrius Brooks intercepted a Blaine Gautier pass in the end zone to give WKU the ball with 1:50 remaining. Rainey capped off his day with a 56-yard burst, followed by a 24-yard touchdown run to set off the celebration.
"We played really physical up front," said senior offensive lineman Wes Jeffries, a Bowling Green native. "And tonight Bobby ran the way Bobby runs."
The Hilltoppers finished the game with 507 yards of total offense, the most since racking up 538 against North Carolina Central on Oct. 27, 2007. It was also WKU's first victory on homecoming since 2006.
After winning the opening toss, the Hilltoppers opted to take the ball to start the game. The offense responded by marching 61 yards in six plays to draw first blood. After a 26-yard completion from Kawaun Jakes to Jack Doyle moved WKU down to the three-yard line, Rainey punched it in from a yard out two-plays later to give the Toppers an early 7-0 lead.
Louisiana-Lafayette (6-2, 4-1 SBC) responded on its first drive as well, needing 10 plays to march 64 yards, but the Topper defense was able to hold inside the 10, forcing a 23-yard field goal by Brett Baer to make it a 7-3 game with 7:08 remaining in the first quarter.
WKU was able to take advantage of a Ragin' Cajun turnover late in the first quarter when a Gautier fumble was recovered by Andrew Jackson, setting up the Hilltoppers at the ULL 29. The Toppers used a 31-yard pass from Rainey to Dexter Haynes to get down to the two yard line, and Kadeem Jones scored on the next play to put WKU in front 14-3 with 14:18 to go in the second quarter.
The Cajuns struck quickly, however, as on the first play on their next drive, Aaron Spikes got loose for a 79-yard touchdown run to cut it to a 14-10 score.
WKU was able to penetrate deep into Cajun territory again, but an interception by Lance Kelley at the one-yard line negated a scoring opportunity. The Hilltopper defense forced a punt, however, as WKU was able to stretch its lead to 21-10 thanks to a 65-yard drive. Rainey carried a bulk of the load on the drive, picking up 38 of his 92 first-half rushing yards, and Mitchell Henry caught his first career touchdown pass on a four-yard completion from Jakes to make it an 11-point game with 2:23 remaining before intermission.
ULL was able to strike quickly again, driving 75 yards in nine plays, and getting a two-yard scoring pass from Gautier to Ladarius Green with nine seconds remaining, sending the teams to the locker rooms with WKU in front 21-17.
After combining for 319 yards in the second quarter, WKU and ULL managed just 36 yards and four punts on the first four possessions of the third quarter. With WKU backed up in the shadow of its end zone on the six, it was able to drive 94 yards to again go up by 11 points. A 35-yard completion by Jakes to Haynes moved the ball near midfield, and Jakes hooked up with Doyle on a 23-yard pass to set the Hilltoppers up at the Cajun five-yard line. Rainey scored his second touchdown of the game on the next play to stretch the lead to 28-17 in the final seconds of the third quarter.
As it had done throughout the game, Louisiana-Lafayette did not take long to answer, needing just 58 seconds to find paydirt. Gautier completed five of seven passes for all 76 yards on the drive, including a six-yard scoring strike to Green to make it a 28-23 game with 14:21 remaining after the two-point conversion attempt failed.
A 32-yard kick return by John Evans on the ensuing kickoff set the Hilltopper offense up at the 45 yard line, and a 17-yard completion to Nick Baisch moved the ball down to the 38. Facing a 3rd-and-12 at 40, Jakes was able to scramble and hit Doyle on a tipped pass, that was initially ruled a touchdown, but video replay showed Doyle down at the one-yard line. However, Jones scored his second rushing touchdown of the game on the next play, stretching the lead to 35-23 with 10:59 remaining.
Gautier again led the Cajuns down the field, needing just six plays to set up first-and-goal at the WKU 8. After an incompletion, Quanterus Smith got to Gautier for an eight-yard sack, and incomplete passes on third and fourth down gave the Hilltoppers the ball back with 8:36 remaining.
The WKU offense was able to run over two minutes off the clock before the drive stalled and a punt gave ULL the ball with five minutes remaining. Brooks' interception and Rainey's touchdown run brought WKU its first home victory in 18 tries.
Jakes finished 15-of-18 passing for a season-high 242 yards and a touchdown. He hooked up with Doyle on seven of those completions for a career-high 106 yards.
For ULL, Gautier connected on 32 of 51 passes for 419 yards and two scores. Harry Peoples had 140 yards receiving, while Javone Lawson finished with 102. The Cajuns racked up 540 yards of total offense in the contest.
WKU will take its winning streak back on the road next Saturday, visiting Louisiana-Monroe for a 2:30 p.m. (CDT) kickoff.