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If there is a perfect play for a perfect situation, Western Kentucky may have found it Saturday night.
After pulling within one point on a touchdown in overtime, quarterback Kawaun Jakes lateraled to tailback Antonio Andrew, who threw it back to Jakes for a two-point conversion to give the Hilltoppers a 32-31 win.
“We were in man-to-man coverage, and the only guy you don’t have a man accounted for is the quarterback,” said UK head coach Joker Phillips. “Great play.”
“It was a well-designed play,” said UK defensive coordinator Rick Minter. “Might work once or twice a year, but it worked tonight. Give them credit.”
It was Western Kentucky’s first win against a BCS conference opponent.
“It’s huge for our program,” said WKU head coach Willie Taggart. “We’ve been through a lot in our program through this whole transition (to Division I). It goes to show you the progress that we’re making with our program.”
Taggert said he had not doubts about going for two in overtime. After jumping out to a 17-0 lead in the second quarter, Western Kentucky had been outscored 24-7 in the rest of regulation.
“Our defense wasn’t playing with the same energy they were early in the game,” he said. “Kentucky had some easy drives down there at the end.”
Little went right for UK sophomore quarterback Maxwell Smith on Wildcat’s first five drives. With just less than six minutes remaining in the first half, he had completed nine of 16 pass attempts for 49 yards and three interceptions. Smith had not thrown an interception in UK’s first two games.
He finished the game completing 37 of 60 passes for 332 yards, two touchdowns and four interceptions.
“I thought I had an alright game beside the four picks, but that’s like saying I pitched well but gave up four grand slams,” Smith said.
Things started to improve for him on UK’s second-to-last drive of the first half. He completed all six of his pass attempts on the 65-yard touchdown drive. Junior tailback Jonathan George capped off the drive with an eight-yard touchdown run.
UK got the ball back with 34 seconds remaining in the half. Smith found sophomore wide receiver Demarco Robinson on a 21-yard catch with two seconds left in the half to set up a 47-yard field goal from senior kicker Craig McIntosh as time expired.
WKU killed some of the Wildcat momentum with a 12-play, 75-yard touchdown drive to start the second half, but Smith again answered for UK.
He completed seven of eight pass attempts for 65 yards on UK’s next drive, which was capped off by a 15-yard catch-and-run by George.
Just as quickly as Smith seemed to find his rhythm he lost it again in the fourth quarter. His first pass of the quarter was intercepted for the third time by Western Kentucky safety Jonathan Dowling. UK appeared to catch a break when Dowling lost a fumble on the interception return, but Smith missed on his next three pass attempts and UK turned the ball over on downs.
After the two teams traded punts, Smith and the Wildcats got the ball back down seven with 2:14 left in the game.
With less than a minute remaining, Smith scrambled to find freshman wide receiver DeMarcus Sweat on a short pass over the middle. Sweat made a couple of moves and took the ball 22 yards for the tying scored.
UK had no trouble scoring on the first possession of overtime, with George finding the end zone on an 11-yard carry for his third touchdown of the game.
The Wildcats appeared to force a fourth down on Western Kentucky’s overtime possession, but sophomore linebacker Bud Dupree was called for roughing the passer to give the Hilltoppers a first-and-goal at the two-yard line.
Andrews scored on the next play with a two-yard carry.
“I was watching the ball and took my eyes off the quarterback,” Phillips said of the penalty. “(They) said we led with our head.”
Dupree still wasn’t sure what he did wrong on the penalty after the game.
“I guess they said I ran into him too late, but I didn’t think I did,” he said. “It is what it is.”
The loss dropped UK to 1-2 on the season. With two losses in nonconference play and the Southeastern Conference slate beginning next week, the Wildcats chances of reaching a bowl game are on life support.
Phillips said he isn’t worried about keeping this team together, and the late-game comeback shows they aren’t giving up.
“I’ve heard the word soft a couple times, and this team is not soft by any means,” he said. “You thinkg because of the offense we’re running, but we’re not a soft football team. We’ve got some tough individuals in that locker room.”
Smith said the mood in the locker room was predictably somber after the loss, but he thinks UK still has time to salvage its season.
“We’ve still got practice, got nine more game,” he said. “We’ll be alright, but the road definitely doesn’t get any easier.”