Bowling Green, Ky. — Troy took advantage of early Western Kentucky University miscues and got a stop on fourth down in the final minute to hold on for a 21-17 non-conference football victory Saturday at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
The loss ended a three-game win streak for the Hilltoppers, who dropped to 6-4 entering a 4 p.m. (CST) Senior Day contest against Morehead State next weekend. The Trojans earned their seventh victory in the last eight games after an 0-2 start despite being held to a season-low point total.
“We had some opportunities, we just didn’t make plays,” Topper head coach David Elson said. “Troy made plays when they had to, which was really frustrating.”
After holding Troy on third-and-nine with just under three minutes remaining in the contest, Greg Whibbs pinned the Toppers inches from the goal line with a 33-yard punt. K.J. Black hit Curtis Hamilton down the left sideline for a 48-yard gain on WKU’s first play, however, and following an 18-yard run by Marell Booker the Hilltoppers were at the Troy-33. Another Booker carry set up third-and-four, but a holding penalty and incompletion left the Hilltoppers facing fourth-and-13 — Shawn Todd sacked Black at midfield to seal the win for Troy.
WKU would outgain the Trojans 416-363, limiting Troy to its lowest offensive output since nationally ranked Florida gave up 336 yards to the Sun Belt Conference leader one week after beating the Toppers. Andre Lewis and Bo Smith collected 11 stops each to pace the Hilltoppers, with the total a career high for the latter. Jihad Morris posted six tackles, while the quartet of Marcus Minor, Marion Rumph — who played for the first time since WKU’s victory at Middle Tennessee Sept. 20 — Chris Walker and Travis Watters recorded five apiece.
On the other side of the ball, Hamilton finished with 147 yards and a touchdown on nine catches, setting the school’s career reception record in the process, while Stephen Willis carried seven times for 158 yards. Tyrell Hayden added 66 yards on the ground, and Black ended up 10-of-19 passing for 149 yards.
The Hilltoppers trailed by seven at the break, which was still the deficit at the midway point of the third period after the teams traded scores leaving Troy ahead 21-14. Kenny Cattouse ended an 85-yard drive with a three-yard touchdown run to extend the Trojan advantage to 21-7 with 12:13 left. But, keyed by a 34-yard completion to Hamilton and a 29-yard rush by Willis on the ensuing play, WKU answered with a one-yard scoring run from Willis with seven-and-a-half minutes to go.
While Chris Bullard’s interception on Troy’s next possession gave WKU a chance to cut into the lead, the Hilltoppers didn’t get on the board again until a career-long 86-yard run from Willis set up Chris James’ 19-yard field goal with 10-and-a-half minutes remaining in the game.
Troy had an opportunity to add to its lead, but missed a field goal from 46 yards out with eight minutes to go in failing to push the edge back to a touchdown margin.
Topper turnovers led to the Trojans’ first two scores, one of which came from the defense. After Elbert Mack ended WKU’s initial possession by intercepting a pass along the sideline, Troy moved 81 yards in 11 plays before Omar Haugabook connected with Gary Banks on a five-yard scoring pass with nine-and-a-half minutes left in the first period. Then, a minute-and-a-half later on 3rd-and-12 from the WKU-21, Chris Bradwell picked up a loose ball and returned it 16 yards for a score and a 14-0 Trojan advantage.
WKU turned the ball over one last time in the opening 30 minutes, this time when Terence Moore intercepted a pass at the WKU-45, but the Hilltopper defense forced a punt without allowing a first down. After starting at their own seven-yard line, Black led the Toppers on a 16-play, 93-yard drive over the next seven-and-a-half minutes — WKU’s longest and most time-consuming possession of the year — before cutting the deficit in half with an 11-yard touchdown pass to Hamilton on third down 22 seconds before the end of the half.
Bullard’s interception was the only turnover committed by the Trojans on the day.
“We had that bad start, but fought back,” said Elson. “We just came up short. They had two good drives against us for touchdowns, we needed to stop just one of them but were not able to do it.”
Boris Lee and Sherrod Martin paced the Trojans with 10 tackles apiece, and Kenny Mainor collected nine stops. Moore and Tavares Williams finished with eight tackles each as well.
Haugabook recorded 187 yards of total offense before leaving in the opening minutes of the final period with an injury. He threw for 125 yards on 12-of-25 passing and added 62 on the ground. Cattouse chipped in with 19 carries for 112 yards as Troy gained 241 of its yards via the rush.
Troy came into the game averaging 34.4 points and 452.7 yards per contest.
Both punters helped their defense start in an advantageous position with three kicks downed inside the 20-yard line, with the Hilltoppers’ Jeremy Moore averaging 44.8 yards on six kicks.