The Middle Tennessee State Blue Raiders traveled to Bowling Green, Kentucky Thursday night to take on their biggest rival - the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The Blue Raiders were riding high on momentum after a high-powered attack against the North Texas Mean Green. QB Logan Kilgore - who had the his best game of the season against UNT with 349 yards, two passing touchdowns and a 45-yard rushing touchdown - looked to lead his team to victory and into sole possession of second place in the Sun Belt Conference standings.
WKU dawned their patented red uniforms and with both teams tied with identical 3-1 conference records, a lot more than a rivalry was on the line. The winner of this game would be in the best potential position to make a bowl game and potentially secure the top spot in the conference down the road.
The Hilltoppers were ten point favorites in this game, and if you looked at both squads on paper, Western Kentucky looked to be heavily favored in many aspects of the game.
During the first quarter, Middle Tennessee controlled the clock for two-thirds of the time while through a ground attack that produced a 10-7 lead. The first score, a 19 yard field goal by Carlos Lopez, capped off a 13-play, 79 yard drive that took five minutes off the clock. Then lightning struck in the form of a career-best 58-yard touchdown run by freshman Jordan Parker. That score capped off a six-play, 79-yard drive, which took a little less than three minutes.
WKU would answer the bell immediately, though, as QB Kawaun Jakes threw his sixteenth touchdown pass of the season, a beautifully placed ball to WR Austin Aikens for 35 yards. DB Kenneth Gilstrap had great coverage on Aikens, but an acrobatic catch put the Hilltoppers on the board and back into the game.
The first score of the second quarter put the Blue Raiders up 17-7 thanks to a touchdown pass from Kilgore to Anthony Amos. Kilgore showed great instincts on the 8-yard connection after WKU jumped offside. Once the flags came out, Kilgore knew he had a free play - and he made the most of it, placing the ball perfectly in the corner of the end zone where only his guy could come down with it. Amos did his part, too - barely getting his foot in bounds to complete the play. The score capped off another long drive that went for 56-yards on eight plays and lasted a little more than three minutes.
The Hilltoppers, however, would outscore MT 10-7 in the quarter - highlighted by another TD pass from Jakes. This time, running back Antonio Andrews slipped past the Blue Raider defense down the middle of the field and was wide open. Jakes eluded a pass rush by stepping up in the pocket and delivered a perfect strike without even setting his feet. WKU also had a drive go deep into MT territory before the Blue Raider defense put together a stand to prevent a touchdown. Kicker Garrett Schwettman connected from 29-yards out with 3:50 left in the quarter.
Heading into the half, the game was tied at 17 apiece, but WKU had swung the momentum in their direction.
During the third quarter, both defenses showed improvement for the most part but both teams gave up passing touchdowns to keep the game tied 24-24. Kilgore threw another pass of 8-yards to Amos, while Jakes tossed up a 32-yard score to wide-out Willie McNeal.
The fourth and final quarter decided the entire match up. The game was tied after both teams kicked field goals. Carlos Lopez connected on his second 19-yard FG of the game while WKU's Schwettman connected from 28-yards out. From there things got crazy.
Following WKU's FG, Reggie Whatley received the kickoff at his own 4-yard line next to the Hilltopper sideline. Whatley ran straight ahead for 20 yards before juking his way towards the center of the field, causing the Hilltopper defenders to miss completely. After that, Whatley was off to the races. He went to the house untouched, running down the Blue Raider sideline to make the game 34-27.
WKU showed some fight though, converting two different fourth down attempts to drive the deep into MT territory yet again. However, with 1:39 left on the clock, Jakes' pass was spectacularly tipped by DB Reggie Farmer - who used every inch of his vertical to get a fingertip on the football. The ball then fell right into the waiting arms of DB Kenneth Gilstrap - who secured the ball at the Blue Raider 6-yard line.
Three dive plays later, the Blue Raiders faced a difficult fourth down decision. With their backs to their own end zone, and with five seconds to go, WKU expected a punt but Kilgore and the offense ran back onto the field. Kilgore took the snap and ran the ball out of the end zone, giving WKU a safety, but ending the game. The final score was 34-29, and the Blue Raiders got their revenge on the Hilltoppers, taking a moment to celebrate in front of the Blue Raider fans that made the trip up.
Western Kentucky dominated the offensive stats with 438 yards compared to Middle Tennessee's 342, but the Hilltoppers had the only two turnovers of the game. The Blue Raiders were able to win the time of possession battle - something that WKU had not lost for 18 consecutive games.
WKU QB Kawaun Jakes completed 19 of 30 pass attempts for 283 yards, three TD's and one INT. Antonio Andrews rushed 25 times for 136 yards and caught five passes for 54 yards and one touchdown. The leading receiver for WKU was Willie McNeal who hauled in seven catches for 119 yards and one touchdown.
Middle Tennessee's stat leaders included a disappointing game for Logan Kilgore after a season best performance last week. Kilgore went 11 for 17 for only 118 yards but he did throw for two touchdowns and for a second consecutive game, Kilgore did not throw an interception.
RB Jordan Parker produced his best performance of the season, rushing for more yards than his previous five games combined. Parker ran for 149 yards on 32 attempts with one touchdown. He has touchdowns in back-to-back games now. Parker has rushed for 483 yards in limited time this season, and now appears to be the main back. WR Anthony Amos caught five passes for 66 yards and two touchdowns. This puts Amos at 860 receiving yards and eight touchdowns for the season.