Bowling Green, Ky. — In front of a Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium record crowd of 22,297, the Western Kentucky University football team opened the home portion of the 2008 campaign with a victory as it retained "The Red Belt" with a 50-9 win over Murray State on Saturday evening.
That broke the previous stadium record of 20,428 that saw the Hilltoppers face Eastern Kentucky on Oct. 26, 1968.
"This is my 13th year here, and this is awesome," said Hilltopper head coach David Elson. "What a great atmosphere and crowd tonight. Our student section was full, and I feel privileged to be part of it."
WKU finished the game with 361 yards of total offense, including a season-high 245 passing yards.
The Hilltoppers scored on four of their first five possessions, while also getting turnovers on Murray’s first two drives to set up scores.
WKU marched 51 yards on nine plays on the opening drive of the contest before settling for a 30-yard field goal by Tanner Siewert to put the first points of the game on the board with 10:43 to play in the opening quarter.
On the first Racer possession of the contest, Ryan Beard picked off a Chris Franklin pass — the first pick of Beard’s career — to set up the first Topper touchdown drove of the game. Starting in Murray State territory, WKU was able to go 36 yards in eight plays before Jared Johnson scored his first touchdown of the season on a two-yard run to give the Toppers a 10-0 lead at the end of a quarter.
A second Hilltopper interception — this time by Mark Santoro — led to another Siewert field goal as he connected fro 42 yards out to stretch the Topper advantage to 13-0.
The only Murray State score of the half came with 11:45 to go in the second quarter when Will Werner picked off a David Wolke pass and returned it 46 yards for a touchdown. However, Alonzo Higgins blocked the extra-point attempt to keep the Hilltopper lead at 13-6.
Wolke would redeem himself on the next WKU possession, leading a 72-yard drive that ended with a two-yard run by the Topper quarterback. The WKU defense returned the favor on Murray State later in the period, as Blake Boyd recorded the third of four first-half interceptions for the Topper defense and returned it 25 yards to stretch the lead to 27-6 at intermission.
Orlando Misaalefua accounted for WKU’s fourth pick late in the half. It marked the first time a Hilltopper defense had recorded four interceptions in a game since Nov. 6, 2004 when they picked off four passes at Missouri State.
"I was pleased the way our guys came out of the locker room," added Elson. "They were fired up — with the crowd — there was great energy and they made a lot of plays."
The two teams traded field goals early in the third quarter, as WKU held a 30-9 advantage after Kienan Cullen connected on a 24-yard kick for Murray State with 5:18 to go in the period. The Hilltoppers would respond quickly, however, as Bobby Rainey took the ensuing kickoff back 92 yards to the one-yard line before Marrell Booker scored on the first play of the drive to stretch the Topper lead to 37-9. Booker led all Topper rushers in both carries (12) and yards (44).
WKU added one more score before the end of the third quarter, driving 68 yards on four plays in just 1:38. The Toppers found paydirt when Quinterrance Copper took a Wolke screen pass and turned it into a 54-yard scoring play to make it a 42-9 score.
Wolke would finish the game 15 of 25 passing for a career-high 254 yards. Cooper accounted for 60 of those yards on three catches.
WKU would add one more score late in the game when Andrew McCloud found the endzone on an 18-yard run, making the final margin 50-9. That stands as the most lopsided WKU victory over Murray State since a 50-0 win on Nov. 23, 1963.
Defensively, the Hilltoppers limited Murray State to just 11 net rushing yards, but the Racers did pass for 228 yards as Franklin connected on 26 of his 40 passes. Ben Sowders paced the WKU defense with seven tackles including 1.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Boyd added five stops to go along with his interception and TD.
WKU will head back out on the road next week as it heads to Lexington for the first every gridiron meeting with Kentucky. Kickoff is schedule for 6 p.m. (CDT) with the game being televised on the Big Blue Sports Network. The broadcast can be seen live locally on WBKO-ABC, and is also available on ESPN GamePlan.