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La Tech Survives a 55-52 Thriller with WKU

This time around, the late comeback wasn’t enought

NCAA Football: Louisiana Tech at Western Kentucky Joshua Lindsey-USA TODAY Sports

What. A. Game.

Western Kentucky’s C-USA winning streak came to an end in the same place as their last loss before the streak started. The Thursday night showdown between the Hilltoppers and the Bulldogs did not disappoint.

We expected a ton of offense, but we had no idea we’d get this much. The over/under of 68 was shattered as both offense and special teams lit up the field.

The game started fast with teams trading scores like baseball cards and the score was 21-14 Tech at the end of the 1st, although WKU tied it up within the first minute of the 2nd quarter. Tech was then able to pull ahead slightly, getting a stop to force a field goal and scoring off a two-minute drill to take a 35-24 lead into halftime with the Bulldogs getting the ball to start the second half.

Now, at this point, it’s hard not to think about Tech’s 2nd half collapse against MTSU. But as the third quarter progressed, it looked like that wasn’t going to happen. After scoring on the opening drive of the third quarter, Tech forced a turnover on WKU’s first play as Anthony Wales fumbled, recovered by Jaylon Ferguson. Tech scored in 5 plays to take a 49-24 lead. The game seemed in hand as Tech took a 52-31 lead into the 4th quarter. But WKU started to slip back up. They scored a touchdown early in the 4th. Tech was then held to an albeit impressive 54-yard field goal from Jonathon Barnes. Then WKU scored again and suddenly it was a 10 point game, 55-45. Next drive, Tech is forced to punt.

It was blocked.

Shaquille Johnson got the block of Logan McPherson’s punt attempt and Kylen Towner scooped it up and took it to the house as the WKU sideline, which had been pretty tame for a while now, erupted. And just like that, yet again, La Tech had blown another big lead.

Now, Tech still led 55-52, but all the momentum was with the Toppers. Tech got the ball back, but was forced to punt after 6 plays. The good news was they took 2:49 off the clock and forced WKU to use all of their timeouts. But WKU was going to get the ball back, down by 3, with 2:13 to go.

First play, Mike White goes back to pass. He steps up but gets wrapped up. He’s about to be sacked by Aaron Brown.

Then the ball came out.

Jaylon Ferguson scooped it up and the crowd erupted.

Who would have thought, that with all the struggles the young Bulldog defense has had, they would be the ones to win the game?

As expected, both quarterbacks lit up the field as 95 total passing attempts were made during the game. Mike White went 36-50 for 340 yards while Ryan Higgins went 33-45 for 454 yards. And yet, there were no interceptions.

Special teams made themselves known tonight. Tech’s opening kick off was returned to midfield by Kylen Towner. Tech’s next kickoff would be touched by a WKU player before going out of bounds, pinning WKU on their own 1 yard line. Tech’s third kickoff would be returned 87 yards to the Tech 13 by Towner. After this, Tech would kick squibs and line drives to try and keep the ball away from Towner. They were mostly able to for the rest of the game, but the result was still pretty good starting field position for WKU. All FGs and extra point attempts were made, highlighted by the 54-yarder by Barnes. And of course, the blocked punt that WKU returned for a touchdown.

We saw two of C-USA’s best out there tonight, and it was a spectacle to watch. But the team that wins the turnover battle is often the victor, especially in a game when you need to score as often as possible. Tech won the turnover battle by never giving the ball away once and recovering two fumbles, one of them being the game-winning strip sack.

For WKU, this could be a humbling experience. They’ve been riding high on their success the last year and a half, and may have thought they were unstoppable. But while you have to admire the way they fought back and almost won, they just couldn’t get it done tonight. They play at arch-rival MTSU next week, and that game is an absolute must-win if they want a shot at repeating as east division champs.

For La Tech, this win was huge. They now have a very good chance of having a 7-game winning streak when they roll into Hattiesburg on Black Friday to take on arch-rival Southern Miss. After blowing the MTSU game, Tech is now right back in the conversation and any doubts they were in for a great season are now gone. The Bulldogs are for real, and they made that known Thursday night. The defense continues to be an issue, but they have now forced critical turnovers two weeks in a row. Still need to improve before they face Mullens, but there’s signs of hope.