Troy, Ala. — Kawaun Jakes threw for 255 yards and three touchdowns, and Antonio Andrews finished with over 100 rushing yards for the fourth straight game as the Western Kentucky University football team won their fourth straight game with a 31-26 victory Thursday night at Troy.
The win improved the Hilltoppers to 5-1 overall and 2-0 in the Sun Belt, while Troy fell to 3-3 and 2-2 in league play.
“It was an ugly game, but we found a way to win,” said Hilltopper head coach Willie Taggart. “We were a little sluggish early, and knew Troy would stack the box and try to stop the run. But we did a great job throwing the football tonight and opened some things up for us offensively. This was a good win for us, and we’re looking forward to getting back home next week.”
For the second straight game, the Hilltoppers had to erase a double-digit first-half deficit as Troy jumped out to an early 10-0 lead.
After starting the opening drive of the game at its own 10 yard line, Troy was able to quickly drive down into the red zone. However, the WKU defense was able to hold and force the Trojans to settle for a 33-yard Wil Scott field goal to make it a 3-0 game less than four minutes into the game.
The Hilltoppers were able to move near midfield on their first drive before a fumble turned the ball back over to Troy. The Trojans were quickly able to take advantage as Corey Robinson hooked up with Chip Reeves on a 38-yard touchdown pass to stretch the lead to 10-0 with 9:26 to go in the first quarter.
Troy threatened on their next drive, but a missed field goal kept it a 10-point deficit for WKU. The Hilltoppers were able to get on the board near the end of the first quarter as they drove 73 yards in eight play. Antonio Andrews had the big play of the drive as he broke a 33-yard run down to the Trojan 31. Five plays later, Kawaun Jakes connected with Mitchell Henry on a 20-yard scoring pass to cut the Troy lead to 10-7 with 58 seconds remaining in the opening quarter.
The Trojans were able to eat up nearly half of the second quarter with their next drive, going 65 yards in 18 plays, and eating up nearly eight minutes of clock. A pass interference call on WKU in the end zone gave Troy a first-and-goal at the two, but the Hilltoppers stuffed three straight running plays to force a field-goal try. The Trojans faked the kick, and holder Jaquon Robinson threw a shovel pass to D.J. Taylor for a one-yard touchdown, putting Troy in front 17-7 with 8:02 to go in the first half.
The Hilltoppers answered with a long drive of their own, going using 17 plays to go 75 yards and eating 7:28 off the clock. WKU converted on third down three times on the drive, including a 3rd-and-18 in which Jakes connected with Rico Brown for 18 yards down to the Troy 24. Faced with 2nd-and-6 at the nine yard line, Jakes connected with Jack Doyle on a nine-yard scoring pass to cut the Trojan lead to 17-14 with 34 seconds left before the half. It was Doyle’s first touchdown catch since Oct. 9, 2010 at Florida International, ending a streak of 79 receptions between TDs.
Trailing by three to start the second half, WKU went on offense to start the final 30 minutes and drove 75 yards in seven plays to take its first lead of the night. Jakes completed all four of his passes for 60 yards on the drive, including two long strikes to Willie McNeal for 20 and 19 yards. The 19-yard pass got the Hilltoppers down to the one-yard line, and Kadeem Jones ran in for the score on the next play as WKU moved in front 21-17 with 11:08 on the third-quarter clock.
With Robinson sidelined with an injury suffered late in the first half, Deon Anthony took over under center for the Trojans and led them on a scoring drive of their first possession of the half. A 45-yard completion to Reeves gave Troy first and goal at the WKU 10, but the Hilltopper defense was again able to hold in the shadow of their end zone. The Trojans settled for a 22-yard Scott field goal to cut the Hilltopper advantage to 21-20 with 4:16 to go in the third.
The Hilltoppers responded with their second scoring drive of the third quarter when they got the ball back, going 64 yards in just four plays. Two Trojans penalties and one long pass play quickly got WKU down field, and Jakes was able to throw his third touchdown of the game as he connected with Jones on an 18-yard pass to push the lead to 28-20 with 1:32 left in the quarter.
Anthony responded with another quick scoring drive for Troy, covering 83 yards in just 1:28. With the ball just over midfield, Anthony’s pass toward the end zone was tipped, juggled and eventually hauled in by Eric Thomas for a 47-yard scoring pass with just four seconds left in the quarter. The two-point conversion try was no good, however, as the Hilltoppers held on to a 28-26 lead entering the final period.
Neither team was able to put the ball in the end zone in the fourth quarter, but WKU was able to take off nearly five minutes of clock with a 10-play drive late in the quarter. After moving inside the Trojan 10, WKU was stopped on third down and settled for a 26-yard Garrett Schwettman field goal with 1:12 remaining. Troy had one last chance with no timeouts, but were unable to convert as the Hilltoppers held on for the 31-26 victory.
Jakes finished the game completing a season-high 21 of 31 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns. It was the third time this year he threw for at least three scores. McNeal hauled in a career-high six catches for 68 yards, while Doyle finished with five catches for 39 yards and a touchdown. Andrews carried 26 times for 113 yards.
Defensively, Andrew Jackson tied a season high with 12 tackles for the second straight game.
The Hilltoppers return home for the first time in nearly a month next Saturday (Oct. 20) when they host Louisiana-Monroe in a 3 p.m. (CDT) contest for Homecoming on the Hill. The game will be televised on ESPN3.