Bowling Green, Ky. — For the first time since 2005, the Western Kentucky University football team is 1-0 to start a season. Senior quarterback Kawaun Jakes set career highs with 296 passing yards and four touchdowns to lead the Hilltoppers to a 49-10 win over Austin Peay Saturday night at Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium.
“This was a great way to get our season started,” said third-year head coach Willie Taggart. “We were able to get a lot of guys some work. We still have a lot of work to do as a football team, but I’m pleased with the performance we put on tonight.”
Jakes became just the fifth quarterback in WKU history to throw for four or more touchdowns in a game, and the first to do so since Jeff Cesarone tied a school record with five TD passes against Akron on Oct. 5, 1985.
WKU was able to drive the ball down to the one-yard line on the opening possession of the game, but a penalty stalled the drive and forced a long field-goal attempt that sailed wide right. It did not take the Hilltoppers long to get on the board, however, as the defense forced a three-and-out, and Antonio Andrews was able to return the APSU punt 70 yards for a touchdown.
The defense came up big again on the next Governor drive as Andrew Jackson sacked APSU quarterback Jake Ryan on third down, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Gavin Rocker at the 21 yard line. On the first play from scrimmage, Jakes hooked up with Willie McNeal on a scoring pass, giving WKU a 14-0 lead with 5:29 remaining in the opening period.
Jakes connected on his second scoring pass midway through the second period, driving WKU 71 yards in just four plays and hooking up with Tim Gorski on a 15-yard scoring pass to put the Toppers in front 21-0 with 8:43 remaining before halftime. That score was set up by a 40-yard completion from Jakes to a diving Austin Aikens on the previous play.
The Hilltoppers allowed Austin Peay to cross midfield for the first time on the ensuing drive, but Rocker came up with a sack on fourth down to give the ball back to the offense at midfield. A 23-yard completion from Jakes to Jack Doyle, and a 19-yard run by Andrews moved WKU quickly inside the 10-yard line. Two plays later, Jakes ran for his first score of the season from eight yards out to push the lead to 28-0 with 4:08 left on the first-half clock.
After WKU committed its first turnover of the game, it was able to get the ball right back as Jonathan Dowling intercepted a pass with just 48 seconds left before halftime. A 28-yard completion to Doyle moved the ball inside the red zone, and Jakes was able to connect with Boe Brand on a 13-yard scoring strike to give the Hilltoppers a 35-0 lead going into the locker room at halftime.
Jakes tied two career highs in the first half, matching his previous high for passing yards in a game with 276, while also throwing three touchdown passes for just the second time in his career. His other 276-yard passing game came in his first career start at Navy on Sept. 26, 2009.
Austin Peay wasted little time bringing an end to the shutout, as on the first play of the second half, Wesley Kitts broke free for a 69-yard touchdown run to cut the WKU lead to 35-7 just 18 seconds into the third quarter. That play more than doubled the Governors’ total yardage for the game, as they were held to just 57 yards in the first half. The Hilltoppers needed just six plays to drive back down the field, however, as Jakes finished the 56-yard drive with his fourth touchdown pass of the game, hooking up with fullback Kadeem Jones on an 18-yard scoring strike to stretch the lead to 42-7 with 11:15 remaining in the third.
James Mauro took over at quarterback for the remainder of the third quarter, and led the Hilltoppers on an eight-play, 65-yard scoring drive in the early stages of the final period. After Mauro connected with Marcus Vasquez on a 24-yard pass to get the ball inside the 10, freshman Leon Allen scored his first career touchdown on a four-yard run to push the lead to 49-7 with 13:20 left to play.
Austin Peay added a 44-yard field goal from Stephen Stansell at the 8:29 mark of the fourth to cut the Hilltopper lead to 49-10 and put an end to the scoring for the night.
WKU finished the game with 596 yards of total offense — the most since racking up 620 yards against West Virginia Tech in its last season-opening win in 2005. WKU trio of quarterbacks — Jakes, Mauro and Brandon Doughty — combined to complete 20 of 27 passes for 352 yards, hooking up with nine different receivers. Doyle led the way with five catches for 76 yards, while Aikens caught passes of 40 and 32 yards to finish with 72 yards receiving. Allen led the rushing attack with 93 yards on 13 carries — all coming in the second half.
Defensively, the Hilltoppers were able to limit the Governors to 154 total yards, and just 11 yards passing.
WKU will hit the road next Saturday as they visit defending national champion Alabama for a 2:30 p.m. (CDT) kickoff in Tuscaloosa, Ala. The contest will be televised on the SEC Network.