Tops Welcome Back College Football by Beating Austin Peay, 38-27

Published: Aug. 27, 2022 at 5:49 PM CDT
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BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - In the very first college football game of 2022, wide receiver Malachi Corley hauled in three touchdown passes while the WKU defense forced three turnovers, and the Hilltoppers opened the 2022 campaign with a 38-27 victory over Austin Peay Saturday afternoon at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

The season-opening victory lifted WKU to 1-0 for the year and dropped Austin Peay to 0-1 on the season.

“Great to get a first win. It’s always good to open the season with a big win,” said WKU Head Coach Tyson Helton. “Hats off to Austin Peay, I thought they were a good football team. Very, very challenging game for us. A lot of good things, a lot of things we need to correct. I think it was kind of apparent to everybody there’s some situational football we need to get better at, but I’m proud of our guys. Proud of our guys. They battled hard in a tough football game right out of the gate, and I thought they responded well particularly in the second half. When the guys needed to make plays, they stood up and made those plays, so I’m really proud of those guys.”

Despite have the ball for over five minutes less than the Governors, WKU outgained Austin Peay 388-327 on the day while running three-fewer plays. WKU saw its biggest offensive advantage come through the air by outpassing Austin Peay 280-156. The biggest advantage of the day, though, occurred in the turnover battle as the Tops finished with a plus-three turnover margin by securing four takeaways to just one for the Govs.

New and old Hilltoppers alike had impressive individual performances for WKU. In the first Division I game of his career, quarterback Austin Reed threw for 280 yards and four touchdowns, three of which went to Corley. The other was his longest pass of the day on which he hooked up with Daewood Davis for a 48-yard touchdown strike. On the ground, newcomer Davion Ervin-Poindexter led the WKU rushing attack by scampering for 49 yards on 15 carries.

Defensive back Upton Stout turned heads in his WKU debut on the defensive side by returning an interception 34 yards for a touchdown to go with three tackles. Linebacker JaQues Evans also played well for the Tops as the team’s leading tackler with 13. Of Evans’ 13 tackles, 2.5 were sacks for 13 yards. Veteran defensive end Juwuan Jones also helped lead the charge for the WKU defense by matching his career high in tackles with 10. Other Hilltoppers that notched turnovers on the day were A.J. Brathwaite Jr. with an interception, and Aaron Key and Davion Williams who both recovered fumbles.

After stalling on its opening drive, the WKU offense capitalized on the momentum generated by Brathwaite’s interception to put up the first touchdown of the 2022 college football season when Reed found Corley for a 16-yard touchdown pass on their first scoring connection of the day. The Tops would not find the end zone again until the start of the second quarter when Reed and Corley made their second connection, this time from 11 yards out to push the Hilltoppers in front of the Governors, 14-10.

Stout’s interception return for a touchdown a few possessions later appeared as if it would give WKU plenty of momentum heading into halftime, but Austin Peay scored the final points of the half to trim the Hilltopper lead to 21-17 heading into the break. Coming out of the locker room, the third quarter featured very little offensive action between the two sides. APSU added a field goal, though, midway through the quarter to make it a one-point game heading into the fourth.

Needing a surge of momentum to gain more separation, Reed and Corley produced their third scoring play of the day from 25 yards out to widen WKU’s lead. That momentum carried over to the next drive which resulted in the 48-yard bomb to Davis, giving the Hilltoppers a 35-20 advantage.

WKU looked as if it would run away from Austin Peay over the final minutes of the fourth quarter, but as they did all day, the Govs scored a touchdown to hang around with eight minutes remaining. The Tops then drove 70 yards to set up Brayden Narveson for a 23-yard field goal which gave WKU the breathing room it needed to close out the win.

The Hilltoppers will now prepare for a trip across the country, and ocean, to Hawaii on Saturday, Sept. 3. Kickoff between WKU and Hawaii is slated for 11 p.m. CT.