Monroe, La. - Jesse Roy's 24-yard field goal in overtime gave the Western Kentucky University football team a 31-28 victory over Louisiana-Monroe Saturday afternoon at Malone Stadium, capping off an improbable final 59 seconds of regulation and overtime period.
The win was the fourth straight for WKU as it improved to 4-4 overall and 4-1 in Sun Belt Conference play. ULM dropped to 2-6 and 1-3 in the league.
"This was a big win for our program. Our guys kept fighting the whole way and never gave up," said Hilltopper head coach Willie Taggart. "In the past, the end of this game might have been a situation where we folded, but that shows the growth and progress of our football team to go out and get the win."
The two teams combined for 22 points in the final 59 seconds, sending the game into overtime.
Leading 20-14, the Hilltoppers forced a punt on the next ULM possession, but a fumble by the Hilltoppers gave the Warhawk offense the ball back near midfield. The home team was able to capitalize, going 54 yards in 10 plays, scoring on a 22-yard pass from Kolton Browning to Colby Harper to make it a 20-14 score with 4:49 remaining.
WKU was helped with the kickoff went out of bounds, but were still forced to punt, but Hendrix Brakefield pinned ULM at their own six yard line with 3:13 remaining and no time outs. ULM proceeded to drive the length of the field, and Browning scored on a six-yard run with 59 seconds left to give ULM a 21-20 advantage.
John Evans took the kickoff, returning it 79 yards all the way down to the ULM nine-yard line. Two plays later, Bobby Rainey scored from four yards out to put WKU back in front 28-21 after a two-point conversion with 38 seconds left.
ULM's offense took the ball at its own 23, and after a 19-yard completion, Browning connected with Tavarese Maye on a 56-yard completion down to the two with 11 seconds left. After a penalty pushed it back to the seven, Browning hit Anthony McCall with a touchdown pass to tie the game with five seconds left, sending the game to overtime tied at 28-28.
ULM took the ball to start the extra session, and drove down inside the Hilltopper five, but Derrius Brooks got in front of Je'Ron Hamm in the end zone for an interception to give WKU the ball with the score still tied.
Rainey picked up 11 yards on the first play to get the ball inside the 15. Two more runs set up a third-and-five at the nine yard line, and Rainey was stopped in the middle of the field at the seven. After ULM called a timeout, Roy was able to connect on the 24-yard field goal to give WKU its fourth straight victory.
Both teams had scoring opportunities on their opening drives of the game. The Hilltoppers were able to move the ball down to the ULM 32 on the opening drive, but a 22-yard loss on third down forced a punt from midfield. Just as WKU was able to do, the Warhawks moved the ball 62 yards on their first drive, but after a third-down stop, Jared Clendenin blocked a 38-yard field-goal attempt to keep the game scoreless.
The game would remain scoreless until early in the second quarter when ULM capped off a 57-yard drive with a five-yard Mitchell Bailey touchdown run. The key play came late in the drive when, after getting stopped on third down, the Warhawks completed a 15-yard pass on fourth to move inside the Hilltopper 10 and set up the score that gave ULM a 7-0 lead with 13:50 to go in the second quarter.
The Hilltoppers responded two drives later with a 63-yard scoring drive of their own. A 25-yard run by Rainey not only moved the Toppers down to the 13 yard line on the drive, but also moved him into third on WKU's career rushing list. Three plays later, Kawaun Jakes hooked up with Mitchell Henry on a 13-yard scoring pass, but the extra-point attempt was blocked as ULM held on to a 7-6 lead with 8:43 remaining before halftime.
Back-to-back sacks by the WKU defense on ULM's next drive forced a 4th-and-34, and a nine-yard put set up the Hilltopper defense at the Warhawk 29-yard line. The offense took advantage of the short field, running nearly four minutes off the clock before Kadeem Jones scored on a one-yard run to put WKU in front 13-7 with 3:21 on the clock. The Hilltoppers would take that six-point lead into the locker room at intermission.
After being limited to just 29 yards of offense in the first quarter, the Hilltoppers finished the half with 121 total yards, including 81 through the air. The WKU defense limited ULM to just 13 rushing yards in the first half.
Long drives by both teams ate up most of the third quarter as ULM drove 58 yards in 6:41 before a high snap resulted in a missed field goal. The Hilltoppers were able to put points on the board in their only drive of the quarter, going 80 yards in 5:39. A third-and-short conversion kept the drive alive early, and with WKU moving deep into Warhawk territory, Jones picked up four yards on a fourth-down run to move it to the ULM 15. On the very next play, Jakes hooked up with Rainey on a 15-yard scoring pass to give the Hilltoppers a 20-7 lead with 2:40 remaining in the quarter.
After forcing a punt, the Hilltoppers got the ball back to start the fourth quarter, and were able to run nearly seven minutes off the clock before a missed 31-yard field goal kept it a 13-point game and gave ULM the ball back with 8:06 to play.
When the dust settled, Rainey finished the game with 104 yards rushing, giving him his second straight 1,000-yard rushing season. He also caught four passes for 47 yards and a score. Jakes completed 13 of 22 passes for 155 yards and two TDs. For ULM, Browning threw for 365 yards - hitting on 29 of 59 passes. He also rushed for a team-best 29 yards. Harper caught eight balls for 110 yards.
The Hilltoppers return home next Saturday (Nov. 5) hosting Florida International in a 3 p.m. (CDT) contest at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
- WKU -