Hilltoppers dominate Rice 45-10 to secure bowl eligibility
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WBKO) - WKU jumped out to an early lead on its first possession of the game and never looked back as the Hilltoppers beat Rice, 45-10, to secure bowl eligibility for the fourth-consecutive season, and the 11th time in 12 seasons.
The Tops advanced their record to 7-4 for the year with the win, including a 5-2 mark in Conference USA play. Because of WKU’s 13-game schedule with a trip to Hawaii, the Hilltoppers needed to win seven games instead of six to become bowl eligible this season. WKU also honored its senior class prior to kickoff.
“Good win by us today, just really proud of our football team,” said WKU head coach Tyson Helton. “Got bowl eligible today, that’s something that we don’t take for granted here. I think 11 out of 12 years being bowl eligible, that’s a big deal here. Got two more to play, got two big games to play. We will see how the conference race finishes up, but very very happy with the performance that we had today.”
WKU was firing on all cylinders in all three phases of the game Saturday. Defensively, the Hilltoppers forced six turnovers, including four interceptions and two fumble recoveries. Kendrick Simpkins, Kaleb Oliver, Tre Shaw and T.J. Springer all picked off passes throughout the game while JaQues Evans and Talique Allen recovered fumbles forced by Oliver and Shaw. Evans’ recovery was one of the highlights of the game as he took it 14 yards to the end zone to complete the scoop and score.
Offensively, Austin Reed completed 23-of-33 passes for 377 yards and three touchdowns, while also rushing for an additional score. Two of his touchdown passes were to senior receiver Jaylen Hall, who scored the first touchdown of the game in similar fashion to last week’s big win over Charlotte. Fellow senior Daewood Davis also had a big play, taking a pass over the middle of the field 62 yards for a touchdown in the second quarter.
Special teams also provided big plays for WKU, including a 46-yard punt return for a touchdown by Hall in the fourth quarter, giving him three scores for the game. Kicker Brayden Narveson was WKU’s other scorer on the afternoon, hitting a 25-yard field goal as time expired in the second half.
Hall finished the day as WKU’s leading receiver with seven catches for 102 yards and two scores. Malachi Corley also hauled in six passes for 90 yards, while Davis made four catches for 82 yards and a touchdown. Michael Mathison only caught three passes on the day but tallied 75 yards. Running back Markese Stepp made his season debut for the Tops Saturday afternoon and served as the leading rusher with 64 yards on eight carries.
Defensively, Derrick Smith finished the game as WKU’s leading tackler with eight. Oliver added seven tackles to his stat line that included an interception and a forced fumble on a strip sack. Evans also pitched in 1.5 sacks after his scoop and score.
The Hilltoppers will now take a break from conference play to take a trip to SEC country where the Auburn Tigers await on Saturday, November 19. Kickoff between the Tops and Tigers is scheduled for 3 p.m. CT and the game will be nationally televised on SEC Network.
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