Bowling Green, Ky. — Regardless of who played quarterback for Western Kentucky University Saturday, the end result was the same — the Hilltoppers ended up with points on the scoreboard.
David Wolke, K.J. Black and Brandon C. Smith combined to lead WKU on nine scoring drives in nine possessions as the offense rolled up a season-best 538 yards in a 50-14 football victory over North Carolina Central at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. The Toppers improved to 5-3 with their second win in a row, while the Eagles dropped to 6-3 after falling for the first time in three outings.
“David is going to be the starter and K.J. is going to come off the bench — that’s the way it’s going to be. They’ve made a two quarterback guy out of me,” WKU head coach David Elson said. “We were hitting on all cylinders on offense, and we really got things going quick. For us not to turn the ball over against their defense was huge too.”
More often than not, the Toppers didn’t require a lot of time to put points on the board. After Ben Sowders intercepted a pass and returned it 10 yards to the NCCU-20, they needed just four plays and a minute and four seconds before Tyrell Hayden reached the end zone for the first points of the night. WKU added a touchdown when Wolke found Wenquel Graves on a 14-yard pass with just over seven minutes left in the first quarter to cap a four-play, 67-yard march that lasted just 54 seconds.
After the Eagles closed to within two points, 16-14, when Stadford Brown ended a 13-play, 85-yard possession with a 15-yard scoring completion to Christopher Edwards, the Hilltoppers needed only one minute and 46 seconds to push the edge back to nine. Following a 12-yard completion from Black to Quinterrance Cooper for a first down at midfield, Hayden scored from 50 yards out.
Hayden collected a team-best 88 yards on 10 carries as WKU rushed for 373 yards in the contest. Stephen Willis added 70 yards on nine attempts, Andrew McCloud had 67 on six rushes and Marell Booker chipped in with 51 yards on eight carries. Black and Wolke combined to rush for 75 yards as well.
The lead was 12 at the break when WKU moved the ball 84 yards in seven plays in the final two minutes, setting up a 28-yard field goal from Chris James. It was his second of the game, as he also connected from 43 yards out on the second play of the second quarter.
The Hilltoppers pulled away in the second half when they ended both of their third-quarter possessions with touchdowns. Wolke led the first drive, concluding a 10-play march when he reached the end zone from six yards out, then Black moved the Toppers 56 yards in eight plays before Willis ran it in on third-and-six from the NCCU-14.
The Eagles had chances to score in the third, but Dan Cline blocked a 42-yard field goal attempt while Rashad Etheridge and Alonzo Higgins stopped Deshawn Spears on fourth-and-seven from the WKU-20 following a two-yard completion.
Booker padded the lead with a one-yard touchdown run — capping a 10-play, 82-yard drive — with little more than 10 minutes remaining in the contest. James’ season-best third field goal, this one from 36 yards out with just under two minutes to go, capped the scoring in the game.
Last week, WKU reached the end zone on each of its first seven drives in a 56-7 win at Indiana State.
Wolke completed 9-of-11 passes for 138 yards, finishing with 168 yards of total offense. Cooper had a team-high four receptions for 39 yards, while Curtis Hamilton caught two passes for 57 yards to lead the Toppers in the latter category.
While the Eagles recorded 333 total offense yards, WKU was able to end drives with turnovers as Jihad Morris and Bo Smith also picked off passes in addition to Sowders’ play. Andre Lewis had a career-best 15 stops to lead all players, while Marcus Minor added seven and both Brad Cloud and Higgins were credited with six stops.
“We had to get some things straightened out on defense,” said Elson. “I’m real proud of the second-half shutout. I was also pleased with the turnovers we came up with.”
NCCU’s first touchdown, which evened the contest at 7-7 with just over eight minutes left in the opening period, came when Brown scored on a quarterback sneak from the one-yard line. The Eagles converted 5-of-7 third downs and once on fourth down before halftime as they controlled the ball for almost 20 of the first 30 minutes.
But, the Eagles managed just 114 yards after the break, including 15 on seven plays in the fourth quarter. Tim Shankle rushed 20 times for a game-high 127 yards, and Brown accounted for 171 yards through the air after going 16-of-27 passing. Edwards had five receptions to pace NCCU, collecting 62 yards, while Wayne Blackwell caught four balls for a game-best 65 yards.
D.J. Fretwell, Eric Ray and Rakeem Vick posted eight stops apiece to lead the Eagle defense.
WKU returns to action with a 1 p.m. (CDT) kickoff at Chattanooga on Saturday.