When the Western Kentucky University football team’s first-team offense opened Saturday’s scrimmage by ending a 20-play drive with a touchdown, it looked like the Hilltopper defense would be in for a long day at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium. However, that’s not how the rest of the two-hour event played out.
The defense ended up limiting the offense to 310 yards on 93 plays, and even got in the scoring column when Jon Belcher recovered a fumble in the end zone the next time the first-team unit took the field. The offense managed just one touchdown and two field goals the rest of the day after its impressive initial possession.
Andre Lewis led the defense with 10 tackles (six unassisted), while Dusty Bear added eight stops and L.J. Harbison collected five. Alonzo Higgins posted six total tackles playing with both the first- and second-team units, while Mike Gothard paced the second squad with five stops and a pass broken up. Brad Cloud and Entonia Johnson each defended two passes, Travis Watters made three solos stops, recovered a fumble and broke up a pass, and Robert Dark chipped in with three tackles behind the line of scrimmage (two solo).
While Bobby Rainey carried 11 times for 22 yards on the first drive of the day before reaching the end zone from one yard out on 3rd-and-goal, David Wolke helped move the chains on the defensive half of the field with a 14-yard completion to Ronnie Letcher and an 18-yard gain to Jessie Quinn that set up 1st-and-goal. The opening possession covered 75 yards as the offense picked up six first downs, converting 4-of-5 times on third down while advancing the chains on fourth down once as well.
“That drive was a thing of beauty,” said WKU head coach David Elson. “They kept picking up first downs and obviously ended up scoring.”
In addition to the two fumble recoveries, the defense forced three three-and-outs before the only other touchdown drive of the day began from midfield. The offense managed a 47-yard field goal from Chris James in a pair of two-minute-drill drives before halftime, and after the opening series following the break resulted in a 29-yard James field goal the defense surrendered just 33 yards on the final 19 plays.
K.J. Black led the first-team offense on the only other touchdown drive, completing two passes for 24 yards to Quinn before scoring on a two-yard run. Tyrell Hayden — who led all rushers with 39 yards on seven attempts overall — carried the ball four times for 25 yards on the series.
Black finished 5-of-6 passing for 64 yards, while Wolke was 6-of-12 for another 51 yards in leading the first-team. Tyler Bruce completed 6-of-9 attempts for 71 yards for the second-team. Wenquel Graves posted five receptions for 55 yards to lead the unit, and Quinn added three catches for 42 yards. Jamar Jones also caught three passes.
Rainey rushed 14 times for 37 yards as the defense held the group to 124 yards on 63 attempts on the ground, an average of less than two yards per carry.
“From a tempo standpoint, everything we wanted to get done was completed,” Elson said. “We were able to work on a lot of different situations with referees. While I thought we saw a significant number of positive things in all three phases of the game, we have a lot of great film that we are going to be able to learn and improve from.”
The Toppers are off Sunday, but will return to the field with practices at 6:30 a.m. (CDT) and 5:30 p.m. at Jimmy Feix Field Monday.