Bowling Green, Ky. - In his final game at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium, Western Kentucky University senior running back Bobby Rainey put on a record-setting performance, breaking both the WKU career and single-season rushing marks in a 41-18 victory over Troy Saturday afternoon.
With the win, WKU wrapped up the regular season 7-5 overall and 7-1 in the Sun Belt Conference. It marks the first winning season for the Hilltoppers since going 7-5 in the 2007 season.
"It was great seeing how we fought back, and to see us play the way we did the last eight week. It's been really enjoyable. After 0-4 our guys could have easily called it quits, but they stuck with the plan," said Hilltopper head coach Willie Taggart. "I was proud of the way we hung in there today and kept fighting after not scoring early. We worked hard all week in practice, and we played like we practiced. Our defense played a fantastic game."
Rainey finished the game with 43 carries for a season-high 227 yards and also tied a career best with three rushing touchdowns. Rainey now has 1,695 yards on the season, breaking the previous mark of 1,668 yard set by Joe Arnold during the 1988 season. His 4,542 career yards now stands atop the all-time list, passing the previous record of 4,396 established by Lerron Moore from 2003-06. Moore was on the sidelines Saturday, meaning the top three rushers in WKU history (Rainey, Moore and Taggart) were in the building for the regular-season finale.
"It was a real blessing for me to be a part of history today, and even better with Lerron here," said Rainey. "The power in our line was really clicking for us today."
Missed opportunities plagued the Hilltoppers in the first quarter, as twice they were able to drive inside the Troy 15 yard line. However, WKU came up empty after missed 34-yard field on the game's opening drive, and a blocked field goal later in the quarter.
After limiting Troy to just two yards of offense in the first quarter, the Hilltoppers made good on the opening drive of the second stanza, driving 70 yards in 10 plays for the game's first score. After a 39-yard completion from Kawaun Jakes to Jack Doyle move the ball down to the one, senior offensive lineman Wes Jeffries lined up at fullback, and dove into the end zone from a yard out to give the Hilltoppers a 7-0 lead with 10:38 to go in the half. For Jeffries - a Bowling Green native - it was his first career carry, and first career touchdown.
After forcing another punt, the 15,432 fans in attendance at Houchens-Smith Stadium witnessed history as - with a 28-yard run - Rainey surpassed Moore to become WKU's all-time rushing leader.
Another missed field goal negated another scoring chance for WKU, and Troy took advantage as it drove 80 yards in 11 plays. A 43-yard completion from Corey Robinson to Corey Johnson on third down, set up the Trojans inside the five, and three plays later D.J. Taylor scored from a yard out. However, the extra point was no good as the Hilltoppers held on to a 7-6 lead with 1:27 remaining before halftime. Of Troy's 85 first-half yards, 80 came on that scoring drive.
After a kickoff return by John Evans and penalty on Troy gave WKU the ball inside Trojan territory, the Hilltopper offense was able to drive the rest of the way in the closing seconds as Jakes scored on a nine yard rush with seven seconds on the clock, sending WKU to the locker room with a 14-6 lead.
The Hilltopper defense was able to get a fourth-down stop on Troy's first possession of the second half, setting up the offense near midfield. The Hilltoppers were able to drive 54 yards on just four plays - all on the ground - to put another score on the board. Jakes broke off a season-long 45-yard run to get the ball down to the five, and two plays later Rainey scored from a yard out to put WKU in front 20-6 after a missed PAT.
After struggling for much of the game, the Troy offense struck quickly, needing just three plays and 51 seconds to drive 61 yards. Robinson was able to connect with Chandler Worthy on a 35-yard scoring pass, but another missed kick kept the Hilltopper lead at 20-12 less just four minutes into the second half.
WKU played the field-position game, pinning the Trojans at their own four, and getting a three-and out and punt from their own end zone. The Hilltoppers got the ball back at midfield, and needed just five plays to find the end zone as Rainey scored his second touchdown of the game from four yards out, making it a 27-12 game with four minutes to go in the third.
Again Troy struck quickly, needing just under two minutes to score again as Robinson connected with Chris Anderson on a 26-yard touchdown, but the two-point try failed as WKU maintained a 27-18 lead with 2:03 to go in the third. The Hilltoppers added two fourth-quarter scores - a one-yard touchdown run by Rainey early in the quarter, and a one-yard rush by Braxston Miller with 3:01 to play to put the final touches on the scoring. For Miller, it was his first career touchdown in the final home game of his career. The last scoring drive at up 9:22 of clock as WKU held the ball for 43:34 in the game, allowing Troy's offense just over 16 minutes of possession.
The Hilltoppers finished the game with six rushing touchdowns, the most since becoming a Football Bowl Subdivision in 2009. WKU finished the game with 494 yards of total offense, including 338 yards on the ground. Jakes completed 11 of 18 passes for 156 yards, with 101 of those yards going to Doyle. It was the third 100-plus yard game of the season for the junior tight end.
Troy ended the game with 330 yards of offense, but WKU limited the Trojans to just 27 rushing yards - the fewest since giving up 25 to Arkansas State earlier in the year, and marking the seventh time this season it has held an opponent under 100 yards rushing.
With a 7-5 overall record, the Hilltoppers will await word on any potential bowl berths. It also will scoreboard watch next week as a Troy victory at Arkansas State would give WKU a share of the Sun Belt Conference championship.
- WKU -