CRAWFORD | Champions! WKU gets defensive assist to beat Southern Miss 45-28 in C-USA title game
Western Kentucky University plays host to Southern Miss in the Conference USA championship game. Eric Crawford has live updates here.
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (WDRB) -- We started the season talking about the Western Kentucky University football offense, and we should have. But in Saturday's Conference USA championship game, it was the defense that delivered.
The Hilltoppers turned four takeaways into 24 points to help erase a 14-point deficit, and used some big-time performances by Brandon Doughty and Taywan Taylor to roll late to a 45-28 victory over Southern Miss to win the school's first league championship game as an FBS member before a Houchens Industries-L.T. Smith Stadium crowd of 16,823.
Doughty shook off a slow start to complete 34 of 52 passes for 410 yards and three touchdowns, and Taylor caught 8 passes for 165 yards and two TDs. Taylor broke the WKU career record with his 24th and 25th TD catches, and Doughty reached the 12,000-yard mark in career passing.
The 14-point comeback was the largest for a win in the history of the C-USA championship game.
Brandon Leston and T.J. McCollum were the team's top tacklers and each had an interception, as did Prince Charles Iworah.
WKU (11,2 9-0 in C-USA) now awaits a bowl bid, as does Southern Miss, which finished a successful turnaround season at 9-4 overall, 7-2 in C-USA.
The Hilltoppers won their 12th straight conference game, the longest conference winning streak in the nation, and won their 11th conference championship overall. Second-year coach Jeff Brohm brought home a league championship faster than any other coach in school history, and improved to 19-7 as the Hilltoppers' coach. WKU also went undefeated at home for the first time since 2004.
"Their team and coach Brohm had a great season and they're a great team," Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. "We just made too many mistakes, and we wore down defensively in the second half."
Final stats (click here to enlarge):
Here's how it all unfolded:
5:01: WKU has taken control. Just what you want when you have the lead late -- an 11-play, 82-yard drive that ate up 7:23 -- has put the Hilltoppers in control 45-28. A 20-yard completion from Brandon Doughty to Antwane Grant on third and five was the big play, and Ace Wales took a short pass from Doughty and carried it in from 24 yards out for the score. It's not over yet, but you could see the emotions from Doughty as his final home game draws to a close. WKU 45, USM 28.
12:24: Southern Miss receiver Michael Thomas appeared to lose a pass in the sun. Prince Charles Iworah did not. He cradled the ball in at the WKU 18, and the Hilltoppers have their fourth takeaway of the day -- three in the second half -- to stop a USM threat and give the ball back to Doughty and the offense.
13:57: That didn't take long. One play after taking over at the WKU 42, Brandon Doughty found Taywan Taylor open on the left side of the field and he sprinted 54 yards to the 3-yard line. D'Andre Ferby carried it in the next play, and WKU has its biggest lead of the game. WKU 38, USM 28.
Credit the WKU defense with two big takeaways that led to 10 WKU points, and the Hilltoppers are back in the lead for the first time since their early 7-0 lead. Stats at the end of three quarters (click here for enlarged image):
1:13: Points off turnovers are the name of the game for WKU. Brandon Doughty found a wide-open Taywan Taylor in the end zone to cap a quick 5-play, 67-yard drive that took just 2:16. With the TD pass, Doughty becomes just the 16th quarterback in FBS history with 12,000 career passing yards and 100 career passing TDs. WKU 31, USM 28.
3:35: Wonderful Terry with another big play, scooping up a Jalen Richard fumble that was caused by a Dejon Brown hit. WKU takes over at its own 33.
6:21: WKU is back on the board with a 37-yard Garrett Schwettman field goal after the T.J. McCollum interception. The Hilltoppers moved it 39 yards on eight plays, but twice receivers had minor stumbles and couldn't quite get to Brandon Doughty passes that would've tied the game. USM 28, WKU 24.
7:48: The WKU defense comes up with another big play. Senior Jontavious Morris tips a Nick Mullens pass and T.J. McCollum picks it off to set WKU back up at its own 41.
8:42: A major momentum shift comes with an injury timeout. WKU had been awarded a first down on a third-down catch by Jared Dangerfield, but an injury to a Southern Miss player and a second look at the third down play resulted in officials -- correctly -- re-spotting the ball, about a half-yard short of the first down. On WKU's subsequent fourth down play, D'Andre Furby was stuffed for a one-yard loss. USM takes over at its own 49.
12:04: Not a good start to the second half for WKU. The Hilltoppers managed just two yards on three plays to open the half, then a big third-down conversion from Nick Mullens to Casey Martin for 31 yards set the Golden Eagles up, and two plays later Ito Smith blasted through the middle of WKU's defense, then ran untouched through the secondary for a 37-yard TD run that put Southern Miss up. USM 28, WKU 21.
For much of the first half, the WKU offense looked as if it thought this was a noon Central time kickoff, not noon Eastern. But the longest WKU drive of the season, in terms of plays, pulled the Hilltoppers within 21-14, and a 97-yard drive in one minute tied the game just before half. WKU gets the ball to open the second.
Southern Miss got its big lead courtesy of short fields and a pick six. It held a 146-28 lead in total offense early in the second quarter, but it has been all WKU to close the half.
Doughty threw for 156 yards in the second quarter and WKU led that quarter in total offense 156-30. Taywan Taylor and Jared Dangerfield have been the top targets for WKU, combining for 11 catches for 110 yards. Half stats:
0:11: And there's the WKU quick-strike offense. Doughty takes the Hilltoppers 97 yards in 7 plays and one minute, the big play a picture-perfect deep strike to Taywan Talyor that covered 49 yards, all of it in the air. Two plays later, he hit Taylor from 2 yards out. WKU 21, USM 21.
2:52: Western Kentucky, a quick-strike, fast-moving offense all season, had to put together a long, sustained drive for its second score of the day. It was 19 plays, 75 yards, and the score came on Brandon Doughty's first rushing touchdown of the season, from 3 yards out. Now the Hilltoppers need to stop USM before half. They'll have the ball to open the second. USM 21, WKU 14.
7:23: A big fourth and one conversion for the Hilltoppers. They're driving at midfield, looking to put something on the board to keep this game manageable.
9:46: Big trouble now for WKU. Brandon Doughty threw a middle screen on third down that was picked off by Kalan Reed and returned 40 yards for the touchdown. Chants of U-S-M are ringing out in Houchens-Smith Stadium, as the Golden Eagles are having their way. USM 21, WKU 7.
11:26: Another short field, another touchdown for Southern Miss, and the Golden Eagles are really dominating this game at the moment, with the only blemish the early interception that led to WKU's first score. They just went 32 yards in 6 plays over 2:15, and got a 5-yard scoring pass from Nick Mullens to Michael Thomas. In total offense, they lead WKU 126 to 28. USM 14, WKU 7.
12:52: WKU's Wonderful Terry just applied a huge hit to USM's Michael Thomas on a sideline catch, Thomas held onto the ball, but lost his breakfast. (Not for the squeamish, via ESPN3)
13:51: After taking over at their own one, the WKU offense again can't get much going. A second punt from the back of their own end zone isn't a good one, just 28 yards, and USM takes over at the WKU 32. So far, an uncharacteristically poor showing for the WKU offense.
WKU ended the quarter with a big third-down stop, but the Toppers need to get something going on offense. Stats:
5:58: After the big return, WKU could move the ball only 2 yards in 4 downs, and turned it over when a fourth-down pass was broken up. Thus far, USM has outgained the Hilltoppers 60 yards to 24.
6:46: Kylen Towner responds to the USM score by returning the ensuing kickoff 61 yards, and WKU is in business at the Southern Miss 34.
6:56: After an ineffective drive in its own end, WKU couldn't stop USM. A big third-down screen pass from Nick Mullens to Michael Thomas -- the Golden Eagles' first completion of the game -- got things going, and Mullens hit Thomas again for 28 yards on the next play, before Jalen Richard carried it in from two yards out. The drive went 45 yards in 5 plays over 1:48. WKU 7, USM 7.
9:21: WKU's second drive goes backwards, as the Hilltoppers tried to get Ace Wales wide on three straight plays, and the Southern Miss defense swarmed him. The drive went negative six yards and USM takes over at the WKU 45 after a 38-yard punt.
12:29: And the Hilltoppers are on the board. After Leston's interception, Wales set up the score on a 21-yard run, and Brandon Doughty hit Antwane Grant with a five-yard scoring pass. The drive covered 28 yards in five plays, took 1:31. WKU 7, USM 0.
13:28: The first big play of the game comes courtesy of Brandon Leston, who intercepted a badly overthrown third-down pass, and WKU is in business at the Southern Miss 28.
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