BISHOP | Getting excited for the latest edition of the Battle of the Bluegrass
It’s been nearly a decade since Western Kentucky and Eastern Kentucky have met in football. That’s far too wide of a gap.
Granted, that break in an age-old rivalry has much to do with WKU’s decision to go from I-AA to I-A in 2007 and EKU remaining in what is now referred to as the Football Championship Subdivision. The two programs playing on an annual basis would mean the Hilltoppers making a visit to Richmond (don’t see that happening) and/or Western cutting a check made out to Eastern each time the Colonels play inside The Houch – and there’s not exactly a vault of coinage underneath The Hill to make that happen every season.
Let’s hope the two programs moving forward can figure out a way to meet every four or five years to allow the Battle of the Bluegrass to survive.
But I digress.
The good news is Western and Eastern
playing each other this weekend. That’s exciting.
Did you know Saturday’s game will be the 86th meeting between Western and Eastern? Did you know they’ve been playing each other since 1914? Did you know seven of the first eight meetings were played at… site unknown‽
It’s a weird rivalry. There’s been 19 shutouts (although none since 1973). There’s been three ties, the last coming in 1983 in Richmond when the team’s stalled at 10-10 – a shocking result considering EKU came into the game undefeated and ranked No. 1 nationally while WKU was 1-5.
There have been been scores like 6-3, 15-10, 8-6, 16-15 and 6-5.
And there was even a forfeit – by Eastern – in 1932.
That forfeit came after six previous meetings where Western had outscored Eastern by a combined 208-13. Legend has it the fine folks at EKU wanted to regroup in that ’32 season before giving it another shot the next year.
In a 1950 homecoming game in Bowling Green, the Hilltoppers won 14-13 on a last-minute pass from Jimmy Feix to Max Stevens. While Feix was considered the hero of the day, he deflected praise to his center for snapping the ball to him on the fateful play. He also praised his kicker for the winning extra point.
Turns out the kicker and the center were the same person: Butch Gilbert. The late Gilbert will be honored during Saturday’s game and all season long.
The 6-5 defeat for Western in 1962 was described in the WKU annual thusly: “as heartbreaking a defeat as any team ever absorbed when they clearly outplayed Eastern Kentucky for three quarters of Western’s homecoming battle only to lose.”
In 1968, Western was 5-0 and had rocked its first five opponents 179-0. That’s right, five straight shutouts before facing Eastern for homecoming in front of more than 20,000 fans.
But the Colonels didn’t care for any of that, winning 16-7 in the third game ever played at Houchens-Smith Stadium.
The 1972 game in Bowling Green was won 10-0 by Western, but drew headlines for a massive sideline melee that started with a hit out of bounds. Feix, now Western’s coach, had to discipline a whole mess of his players who had left the sidelines without their helmets to join in the fracas. He gave the guilty players a “Bonehead Award” the following night at a team meeting.
Players remember WKU’s punter being pulled into the stands during the chaos, and the fight – referred to later as a players’ riot – lasted longer than any on-field altercation anyone had ever been a part of.
A few years later in 1978, in a game televised regionally by ABC, Eastern thought they had stolen a 16-14 win after Western’s last minute drive set the Hilltoppers up for a game-winning field goal – a field goal that was no good. But officials ruled EKU had roughed kicker Kavin McGrath, a former walk-on defensive back turned backup placekicker.
McGrath got another shot from 25 yards out. It was good. The Tops won 17-16 and went on to win the Ohio Valley Conference championship. It was also McGrath’s lone field goal attempt of the season and of his career.
In 1979, Eastern returned the favor in Richmond to win an 8-6 contest in front of more than 25,000 fans. The Colonels went on to win the national championship that season.
Jack Harbaugh and Willie Taggart had their WKU-EKU moments and in 1997 they polished off their rivals in a I-AA first-round playoff game in Bowling Green. Up 28-7 midway through the fourth quarter, the relatively conservative Harbaugh called a tight end reverse – yes, a tight end reverse – for Cory Himsel.
Himsel took a handoff from Taggart and scored on a 6-yard run from right to left to put the Tops ahead 35-7, starting the celebration early that November evening.
Western has won six of the past seven in the series dating back to 2000. Eastern hasn’t left Western victorious since 1998.
The Colonels, of course, would love nothing more to change all that Saturday. And just because the gap of talent, depth and size has widened over the years doesn’t necessarily mean the ferocity has.
Enjoy rivalry week!
Last year I posted a 44-31 mark against the spread – and that’s pretty good methinks! I could be lying to you. You could go back to each and every column and fact check my fearless prognostications.
Hopefully you have more time on your hands than to pick such a menial task.
Anyhooooooooo, let’s talk football, shall we? Real, live, bonafide football between the lines this week. And we start with the juicy rivalry that is Eastern at Western (editorial note: I’ll be referring to EKU and WKU all week as Eastern and Western because that’s really fun).
As much as I’d like to make a case for this game being a close one, honesty compels me to go with the obvious. Eastern is still in the midst of a rebuilding cycle with an incredibly young team and an FBS transfer quarterback who only completed 48.3 percent of his passes in three seasons at Connecticut.
And Western, as you know, is a very, very good team with a wealth of talent, depth, size and experience. The Tops have become pretty tough to beat as home as well.
No line was available for this one as of Monday morning. I’m still rolling with WKU in a 45-14 drubbing to become Battle of the Bluegrass kings.
WKU athletic director Todd Stewart worked furiously to get a future series between Louisville and the Tops in what would have been Jeff Brohm’s first shot at his alma mater.
Then Brohm left for Purdue.
Purdue had already scheduled to open the 2017 season against the Cardinals.
Whoops because today’s WKU team (and probably its future teams) stands a much better chance against ACC title contenders Louisville than a Purdue squad with a long, long road ahead. Saturday’s game in Indianapolis won’t be without its intrigue, though.
Brohm, of course, played for Petrino. He also coached for Petrino. One would assume he would love nothing more than to pull the shocker of all shockers by beating ol’ Coach P.
Not gonna happen.
Louisville wins, but Purdue keeps its within the 25 1/2 at 42-20.
It seems folks in the Commonwealth have conveniently forgotten a small part of the 2016 football season for the Kentucky Wildcats.
Do you not remember that the big, bad Golden Eagles of Southern Mississippi stormed into Kroger Field – or Commonwealth Stadium or the Stoops Stoop or whatever it’s called now – last year and won 44-35?
The Cats allowed twice as many first downs, gave up 262 yards rushing, committed three turnovers and were shut out in the second half! Hello!
Now, yes, I know, USM limped to a 7-6 record while UK rallied to beat rival Louisville and reach a bowl game for the first time since the Civil War (slight exaggeration). And there’s a lot of validated buzz around Kentucky this preseason.
I’m just not buying this being an easy win for those Cats like many of you out there are preaching.
I’m sticking with the Eagles to keep it within the 10 1/2 in a 27-24 UK victory.
Western Kentucky offensive lineman Jimmie Sims: “Just hearing people call me an old-head now, it’s crazy. I used to be in their shoes. First and second year I was trying to see the field and coming into my own, becoming the player that I’m still becoming that I am now. Just crazy looking back at all the years. It’s been an experience. I’m grateful for it.”
Thinking of all our friends in Houston. Enjoy Bayou City natives the Geto Boys: