BOZICH: Taggart's Bold Call Leaves Kentucky Seeing WKU Red
LEXINGTON, Ky. (WDRB) – The play is called "Seminole." That's Hilltopper for, "We play to win."
Willie Taggart isn't sure why that is the name. The quarterback laterals to halfback. Halfback passes to quarterback. Quarterback dances into the end zone.
The celebration goes on and on and on.
"It's one of those plays you draw up in the dirt," Taggart said, smiling wildly.
Taggart believes Western Kentucky ran it during his senior season with the Hilltoppers in 1998. Taggart tucked the play into his mind and then brought it out at practice last Thursday. He told his players that when they were in position to deliver the knockout blow against Kentucky, Seminole would be the call.
For four quarters Saturday night, the Hilltoppers pushed Kentucky up and down and all around the turf at Commonwealth Stadium. They moved ahead in the first eight minutes and refused to let the Wildcats tie it until only 24 seconds remained.
Overtime followed. Kentucky scored first – and then kicked the extra point. Western Kentucky scored. There would be no kick on this extra point. Taggart huddled his entire team – not just the offense – on the WKU 25-yard line.
The call was courageous. The call was defining. The call was Seminole.
"It's time for Seminole," Taggart said. "You guys have been wanting it. Let's do it – and win it. I wasn't nervous. We had nothing to lose."
"Coach believes in us," WKU tight end Jack Doyle said. "Everybody knew we would go for two."
WKU quarterback Kawaun Jakes stood in an empty backfield. He lateraled the ball right to running back Antonio Andrews, who faked a burst toward the goal line, stopped, planted and then floated a pass back toward Jakes.
For a second even Taggart wondered if the pass was too soft. Jakes eliminated that fear, scooping it out of the air and then dancing into the left corner of the end zone.
WKU 32, UK 31 in overtime. Whenever you read this, they'll still be celebrating in Bowling Green.
"I hope this gets the community and everybody excited," Doyle said. "There should be a few people waiting for us in Bowling Green with some fireworks."
The next thing you knew there were Western Kentucky football players rolling around on the turf like Labrador retrievers, marking their spots. Others reached into the crowd of about 4,000 Hilltoppers' fans to grab cell-phone cameras to commemorate the moment. The band played and played and played.
"It's a landmark moment for the program," WKU athletics director Todd Stewart said. "It validates that Willie is a man who believes in his team. He believes in his players. He always has. He's never wavered even in the tough times."
Taggart looked like the guy who set records as the WKU quarterback, racing toward the sidelines and leaping into the crowd. He made it.
His joy was so overpowering that he made a crack about red being the new blue, a comment that UK coach Joker Phillips likely did not appreciate. Phillips will probably be even more annoyed when he learns that Taggart switched out a blue chair for a gray one before he answered questions in the post-game press conference – and that he wouldn't let any of his players sit in blue chairs either.
But with this loss Phillips has to be more concerned with what his fans are saying than what Taggart is saying. What UK fans are saying is this was a game Kentucky could not lose and this will be a loss Phillips cannot survive, Kentucky's first football loss to WKU as well as a defeat that makes Kentucky's journey to six victories and bowl eligibility more improbable than it already was.
Western deserved to win. The Hilltoppers were the better team. More physical. More determined. Better running game. Better run defense. The Toppers were the Big Boy program, outrushing the Wildcats, 180-58, earning 10 rushing first downs to Kentucky's four.
And more fearless – as they proved beyond a reasonable doubt when they roared their approval after Taggart announced it was time to run Seminole and win this football game.
There will be plenty of time to analyze Phillips' difficult future, especially with Florida (away on Saturday), South Carolina, Mississippi State and Arkansas (away) looming on the Kentucky schedule.
This was Taggart's moment. He brought his program to Lexington two years ago and lost, 63-28, one game in WKU's 26-game losing streak. He started last season with four consecutive defeats, including a game when WKU outplayed Kentucky in Nashville last season.
This time WKU outplayed Kentucky – and won, playing to win on every call that Willie Taggart made. The Toppers have won nine of their last 11 games – and their only two defeats have been against Louisiana State and Alabama, programs that play for national titles.
"I told our guys before the game that it was our time," Taggart said. "We've been in the spotlight quite a bit since we've been here. It's time for us to show everybody what we've capable of."
Consider everybody shown.
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