Blacksburg, Va. — Dexter Taylor rushed for a career-high 96 yards and led Western Kentucky University on a pair of scoring drives, but a 27-3 third-quarter deficit was too much to overcome as the Hilltopper football team dropped a 27-13 decision to #20 Virginia Tech Saturday afternoon in front of 66,233 at Lane Stadium/Worsham Field.
The game ended a grueling stretch for the Toppers (2-4) that saw them play five of the first six games of the season on the road. Four of those contests came against teams from Big Ten, Southeastern and Atlantic Coast Conferences.
The Hilltoppers outgained Virginia Tech (5-1) 147-118 in the second half, and outscored the Hokies 10-7 in the final 30 minutes. For the game, WKU posted 243 yards of total offense, compared to 293 for Virginia Tech.
"Our guys poured their hearts out today. This is by far the toughest environment we have played in, and you just can’t have the penalties we had against a team like Virginia Tech," said Hilltopper head coach David Elson. "We don’t believe in moral victories, and we aren’t happy with a loss, but I saw some real good things out of this football team in the second half. I’m excited to get back to work this week and get back out in front of our fans next Saturday."
The tide turned in Virginia Tech’s favor in the final 3:16 of the second quarter. After WKU was forced to punt for the fourth time in the half, Victor Harris returned the kick 32 yards to set the Hokies up at the WKU 38 yard line. On the eighth play of the drive, Darren Evans scored from a yard out to give Va. Tech a 17-3 with 25 seconds remaining in the period. After the ensuing kickoff went out of bounds to give the Toppers the ball at the 40, Harris proved big again as he picked off a David Wolke pass and returned it to the five, setting up a Dustin Keys field goal at the end of the period to send Virginia Tech to the locker room with a 20-3 lead.
Virginia Tech made it 17 unanswered points early in the second half, taking the ball to start the period and driving 72 yards in 10 plays. The drive included three third-down conversions with Evans getting into the endzone from two yards out for his second score of the contest.
Taylor— lining up at quarterback for the first time this season — led WKU on its most productive drive of the game following the Virginia Tech score. The Hilltoppers were able to go 73 yards in nine plays before Tanner Siewert knocked through his second field goal of the game from 24 yards out to make it a 27-6 score with 30 seconds left in the half. On the drive, all the WKU yardage came on the ground, with Taylor picking up 44 yards on four carries, and Bobby Rainey breaking a 31-yard run to put the Toppers in the red zone.
Special-teams trickery for the second time in the game got WKU the ball back as Siewert’s onsides kick was recovered by Ben Sowders to set up the offense at the WKU 47 yard line. Sticking with Taylor under center, the Toppers were able to go 53 yards in eight plays, with Taylor picking up another 44 yards rushing to get the ball down to the Virginia Tech 3. Wolke then reentered the game at QB and found Tristan Jones in the end zone to cut the Topper deficit to 27-13 with 11:58 remaining.
Taylor would finish the game with 96 rushing yards on 14 carries — an average of 6.9 yards per carry. In all, the Hilltoppers collected 148 of their 243 total offensive yards on the ground, with 128 of those running yards coming in the second half.
The Hokies got on the board early when they scored on a penalty-laden opening drive, settling for a 27-yard field goal by Keys at the 7:38 mark of the first quarter after the Topper defense picked up a pair of stops inside the 10-yard line. WKU appeared to have the drive stopped after an incomplete pass on third down, but a personal foul penalty — one of four flags thrown on the drive, and 16 in the first half.
In all, the two teams combined for 124 penalty yards in the first 30 minutes of action, with WKU drawing 11 flags for 89 yards. For the game, WKU was penalized 13 times for 113 yards.
After a second straight WKU three-and-out, Virginia Tech struck quickly, going 66 yards in just seven plays to put its first touchdown of the day on the board. The drive ended when Tyrod Taylor found Greg Boone for a 27-yard touchdown pass to make it a 10-0.
The Toppers appeared to be stopped on a third straight possession when it lined up to punt at the start of the second quarter. But Jeremy Moore faked the kick and found Blake Boyd open for the catch. Boyd took the ball all the way down the sideline for a touchdown, but WKU was called for an illegal block on the play, setting up the offense at the Virginia Tech 29 yard line. However, the Toppers were unable to move the ball any further before Siewert knocked through a 49-yard field goal to get them on the board and make it a 10-3 game with 13:53 remaining in the half.
WKU was able to stop the Hokies on their next two drives, including recovering a Taylor fumble at the Hilltopper 11 yard line, to keep it a one-score game before Virginia Tech scored twice in the closing seconds of the period.
After going 72 yards on their first drive of the second half, the Hokies picked up just 48 yards the rest of the game. The Topper defense also registered a season-high five sacks in the contest and seven tackles for loss. Darvis McBride paced the defense with a career-high 11 tackles.
WKU returns home next Saturday (Oct. 11) to open a three-game homestand against Ball State at 6 p.m. (CDT) at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
"Everybody in Bowling Green and in the area should come and watch this team play," said Elson. "We had a great atmosphere for our home opener, and we’re hoping to build on that and keep breaking our home attendance record every time out this year."