Bowling Green, Ky. — Led by an 8-of-13 performance from David Wolke, the Western Kentucky University offense collected 249 passing yards en route to scoring five touchdowns Wednesday in the team’s final preseason scrimmage at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
“We’ve got some firepower on offense, and we did some good things on defense at times with forced turnovers and big hits,” said head coach David Elson. “It’s good to be able to move the chains and eat up the clock offensively, but it’s frustrating for the defense. I also was pleased with our special teams units, that’s the first time I can remember making those areas live contact in a scrimmage. Overall, I like what we got done tonight.”
Wolke, who also ran for 15 yards on four carries, completed a pair of passes to Curtis Hamilton for big gains on the opening possession of the night in leading the first-team offense on an 11-play, 79-yard march that culminated with Andrew McCloud’s one-yard touchdown run with 10-and-a-half minutes remaining in the opening quarter. In his third series with the first-team, Wolke guided the unit 99 yards down the field after a Jeremy Moore punt was downed at the 1-yard line. It took 15 plays before Tyrell Hayden scored from one yard out nine-and-a-half minutes before the break. On that drive, the junior quarterback completed third-down passes for 10 or more yards to both Jessie Quinn and Jake Gaebler to keep the chains moving.
He would finish with 116 yards through the air.
McCloud broke off runs of 12 and 23 yards on that second possession that resulted in points to finish with 51 yards on nine attempts, leading all rushers. Hayden added 15 carries for 47 yards, while Stephen Willis collected 27 yards as well.
Hamilton’s 67 yards on three receptions paced the Hilltoppers, and Wenquel Graves caught four passes for an additional 44 yards while working with both the first-and second-team units. Gaebler added three catches for 34 yards.
“We’re going to be tough to defend,” Elson said. “I’m excited about where we are at offensively. I thought David had good command of the offense, and K.J. [Black] came in and showed how elusive he can be. Curtis caught some balls early on the first drive, and our running backs offer a rotation of guys that I can’t stand to have to tackle.”
The second-team offense added three touchdown drives, beginning with a nine-play, 80-yard march that Willis ended with an 11-yard scoring run with just over a minute left before halftime. After the break, Tyler Bruce found Clark Jeter from 14 yards out in the back right corner of the end zone on 3rd-and-goal late in the third period before Rod Johnson’s six-yard touchdown run over the right end with seven minutes to go closed out the scoring.
Bruce completed 10-of-12 pass attempts for 109 yards working with the second- and third-teams.
WKU received additional points from Rashad Etheridge, who returned a kickoff 92 yards for a touchdown after the first score of the night, and Chris James, who connected on 47- and 27-yard field goals. Moore aided the special teams performance by averaging 46.4 yards per punt.
Andre Lewis was the only defensive player to record double digits in tackles after posting 13 stops (nine solo). L.J. Harbison and Marion Rumph collected six tackles apiece, while Travis Watters was credited with four unassisted stops, two forced fumbles, one recovery and a pass broken up. Bo Smith broke up three passes, with Brad Cloud returning an interception 14 yards and Marquise Burns recovering a fumble to account for the rest of the defense’s turnovers.
Actually, after the initial drive of the evening, the unit settled down for the rest of the opening period. In addition to forcing five punts, Watters forced and recovered a fumble near midfield, and Harbison’s sack in the end zone of Brandon C. Smith led to a safety.
“We’ve gotten to the point where we need to be with the installation of plays and understanding what we do,” Elson said. “We need to get into game week and start looking at somebody else.”
The Hilltoppers begin the 2007 campaign Saturday, Sept. 1 at defending national champion Florida, which is ranked as high as third in the preseason polls. The contest in Gainesville will kickoff at 11:30 a.m. (CDT) and be televised on a regional basis by Lincoln Financial Sports.