Lexington, Ky. — Antonio Andrews ran for three touchdowns Saturday night against Kentucky, but it was his throwback pass to Kawaun Jakes on a two-point conversion that gave the Hilltoppers a 32-31 win over the Wildcats Saturday night at Commonwealth Stadium.
It was WKU’s first win in four all-time meetings against Kentucky. It was also the first win for the Hilltoppers against a team from a BCS automatic qualifying conference.
"This is a huge win for the program. It is amazing to see how far we have come in just two years,” said WKU head coach Willie Taggart, who has now led the Hilltoppers to a 4-0 record in overtime games since 2010. “We are in our third year now, and we have been at the bottom. I told our guys before the game it was our time. It was our time to show everyone else what we are capable of, and we did that tonight.”
After the Wildcats (1-2) scored on the first possession of overtime to take its first lead of the game (31-24), WKU was able march the ball down to the 10 yard line, but faced a third-and seven when Jakes hooked up with Kadeem Jones. The spot appeared to be short, but a roughing the passer call on UK gave the Toppers a first down at the two. Andrew scored on the next play to pull the Toppers within a point, and the Hilltoppers (2-1) immediately lined up to go for two and the win.
Jakes threw a lateral to Andrews, who turned and threw left back to Jakes. The Hilltopper quarterback was able to pick up the ball just before it hit the turf and ran into the end zone for the game-winning conversion.
“Our guys had been calling for that play all game,” said Taggart. “I knew our defense had been struggling the last part of the game, and they weren’t playing with the same energy and intensity they had early in the game. I told our guys, ‘if we score we’re going to go for it all. We’re playing to win, we’re not going to another overtime.’ Our guys were fired up. They understood we were back in our neck of the woods in overtime, and they went out there and played well.”
Andrews carried the ball 34 times for a career-high 125 yards and three touchdowns, while also hauling in three catches for 36 yards. On the night, the Fort Campbell, Ky., junior racked up 233 all-purpose yards. Jakes continued his efficient start to the 2012 season, completing 16 of 22 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown.
WKU trailed for the only time on the night following UK’s overtime possession. In fact, the Hilltopper held a 14-point lead late in the third quarter, and it took a touchdown with 24 seconds remaining in regulation to force the overtime.
The Hilltopper defense was able to force a turnover on the opening drive of the game as Brett Harrington recorded his first career pick on a Maxwell Smith pass, setting up WKU at its own 41 yard line. A 29-yard pass from Jakes to Austin Aikens moved the Toppers deep into UK territory, but an apparent touchdown pass to Jack Doyle was called back on an illegal formation penalty. WKU was able to get inside the 10, but settled for a 23-yard Garrett Schwettman field goal to take a 3-0 lead with 7:17 to go in the opening quarter.
That would be the only score of the first quarter, but the Hilltoppers were able to stop Kentucky on a 4th-and-1 play early in the second period before going on a long scoring drive. After taking over at its own 29, WKU marched 71 yards in 12 plays and eating up 6:28 of clock. Andrews capped the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to put the Toppers in front 10-0 with 7:06 remaining before halftime.
On the ensuing drive, Jonathan Dowling picked off Smith for the second time — WKU’s third interception of the half — and returned it 36 yards to the two yard line. Two plays later, Andrews found the end zone for the second time in just over two minutes of action, scoring from one yard tout to stretch the lead to 17-0 with 5:01 on the clock.
It did not take long for Kentucky to respond, however, as it was able to march 65 yards in just seven plays, getting on the board with an eight-yard Jonathan George run to cut the lead to 17-7 with 3:01 remaining before intermission.
After WKU was forced to punt with less than a minute to go, UK was able to go 36 yards in just 22 seconds, getting a 47-yard field goal from Craig McIntosh as time expired to make it a 17-10 score at halftime.
After holding the ball on offense for 19:22 in the first half, the Hilltoppers picked up right where they left off on the opening drive after halftime. WKU was able to 75 yards in 12 play, eating up 6:58 of the third-quarter clock. Andrews accounted for 48 of those 75 yards on the drive, rushing for 33 and catching a 15 yard pass, but it was Jakes who found Willie McNeal on a 13-yard touchdown pass as WKU stretched its lead to 24-10 with 8:02 left in the third.
Kentucky again responded, going 84 yards in 12 plays to again pull within one score. Smith completed seven of eight passes on the drive, capping the scoring march with a 15-yard pass to George to cut the Hilltopper lead to 24-17 with 3:33 remaining in the third.
WKU was forced into a three-and-out situation for the first time in 2012 on its next offensive series, giving the ball back to UK at the Wildcat 35 yard line with 1:20 to go in the quarter.
The Hilltoppers appeared to have another takeaway on the first play of the fourth quarter as Dowling intercepted a Smith pass for the third time, but on the return fumbled the ball back to UK at the 36 yard line. However, the Hilltopper defense held, getting pass breakups from Kareem Peterson on both third and fourth down as WKU took over at its own 33 yard line with 13:54 remaining in the game.
The WKU offense was able to chew another 4:24 off the clock before punting the ball back to Kentucky, but a 10-play drive by the Wildcats was stopped by a Bar’ee Boyd sack on third down, forcing a punt back to the Hilltoppers with 5:24 left to play.
The Toppers were able to pick up 15 yards — and more importantly force UK to call its final two timeouts — before punting the ball back to the Wildcats with 2:14 to play. Hendrix Brakefield’s 51 yard punt pushed Kentucky back to its own 23-yard line. However, the Wildcats were able to cover the 77 yards in just 1:50, getting a 22-yard scoring pass from Smith to DeMarcus Sweat to tie the game 24-24 with 24 seconds remaining. The Hilltoppers took one shot down field before running out the clock and sending the game to overtime. George scored his second touchdown of the game — this time from 11 yards out — to put UK on top in the extra session before the Hilltoppers scored and converted the two points for the victory.
Defensively, Xavius Boyd led WKU in tackles, tying a career high with 10 stops. The interceptions proved to be the big stat of the night defensively as the Hilltoppers picked off four passes for the first time since doing so against Murray State on Sept. 20, 2008. Dowling also became just the fifth Hilltopper in history to record at least three interceptions in a game, and the first since Carl Brazley had three picks against East Tennessee State on Sept. 30, 1978.
WKU also continued its trend of winning the time-of-possession battle, holding the ball for 36:07.
The Hilltoppers return home next Saturday (Sept. 22) to take on Southern Miss at 6 p.m. (CDT) at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.