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Western Kentucky Loses To Maine 31-28 Despite A Big Early Lead

The Tops collapsed after the first quarter to move to 0-2 on Saturday.

NCAA Football: Western Kentucky at Wisconsin Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Over this past offseason, many invested in the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers football program looked at the 2018 schedule and didn’t exactly get their hopes up. Almost nobody, however, thought that a loss to the FCS Maine Black Bears would be something to fear...but, here we are.

Things admittedly started very well for Western Kentucky. Drew Eckels hit Lucky Jackson for a 66-yard touchdown on the Tops’ first offensive snap of the game. On the ensuing Maine possession, Devon Key returned an interception 45 yards for a touchdown. On WKU’s next offensive possession, Eckels found Jackson for six again on a 32-yard score. That was all in the first quarter.

In the second quarter, the Maine offense came alive and quarterback Chris Ferguson began picking apart the Western Kentucky defense. The Black Bears first got on the board with a 51-yard pass to Ramon Jefferson. Ferguson threw another touchdown to Micah Wright shortly before the end of the first half.

WKU punted three times and had a turnover on downs in the second quarter.

The third quarter went in a similar direction with Maine tying the game after a Eckels fumbled in the backfield and the Black Bears returned it fifty yards for a score. Maine took a 28-21 lead later in the third with Ferguson’s second touchdown pass to Micah Wright on the day.

In the fourth, Maine’s Kenny Doak extended the lead to 31-21 with a 37-yard field goal. On the following WKU possession, the Tops got within three when freshman running back Garland LaFrance scored on a pass play from 75 yards out.

After forcing a Maine punt, WKU tried to tie the game with a 48-yard field goal with less than a minute left, but Maine blocked the kick. All the Black Bears had to do next was take a knee. The victory was just Maine’s third in program history over an FBS opponent.

It was another solid night under center for Eckels who finished the night with 347 passing yards on 23 completions with three touchdowns.

The problems for Western Kentucky’s offense came as the result of a couple of things, but mainly (stop me if you’ve heard this one) an abysmal day by the offensive line. Eckels was sacked six times, the Tops netted just 42 yards rushing, and the Main defense totaled seven TFLs. The play calling didn’t help things either. WKU turned the ball over on downs twice, the second time at their own 15 with the scored tied and most of the second half left to play.

The defense had their fair share of problems too. Western Kentucky allowed Maine 324 total yards and two long passing touchdowns (51 and 32 yards). Maine also won the time of possession battle by about seven minutes in this one. When your defense isn’t able to get off the field and your secondary, who some touted as the best part of your team, can’t get it done, there’s reason to be concerned.

This was the general sentiment on social media following the game.

Is this the beginning of the end for Mike Sanford? There’s still plenty of football left, but the head coach in his second year seems to know that this looks bad for him and his program.

WKU will try to rebound next week with a road game against Louisville on September 15th.