In a performance that resulted in a scoreline of 45-13, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers won their homecoming game on Saturday against the visiting Charlotte 49ers.
The loss for Charlotte marked the first time this season that the 49ers have lost consecutive games this season. On the other side, the Tops won their third consecutive game after starting the year 1-4. Charlotte’s inexperienced lineup ran into problems early and often with five different players making their first career start for the 49ers. Meanwhile, WKU looked more balanced than they have all year.
All this raises questions about the good and the bad about both teams as the race for the C-USA East title gets a little less clear, but a lot more entertaining.
Health of Chris Reynolds
James Foster stepped up at quarterback in place of Reynolds on Saturday. Following the loss, Will Healy commented that his usual starting quarterback would be day-to-day this week after sitting out Saturday due to a hand injury he reportedly suffered against FAU. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in Charlotte’s lowest passing yardage total of the year with 129. This also was Charlotte’s first game of the season without a passing touchdown, snapping a streak of 12 consecutive games with a touchdown. If Reynolds’ absence will be extended, Foster will need to improve quickly to keep Charlotte’s division title hopes alive.
Three Way Tie For The Lead In The East
After this game, Marshall, FAU, and Western Kentucky are all 3-1 in conference play following this weekend. Marshall and FAU have better overall records than WKU, each at 5-3. Charlotte and Middle Tennessee are not far off at 4-4 overall and 2-2 in conference play. The race for the division crown isn’t leaving any of these teams room for error with four games left in the regular season. For WKU, they will end their season with back-to-back matchups against FAU and Marshall on November 20 and November 27.
The Upside of Front-Loading Your Schedule
Can WKU’s rough start simply be contributed to their tough schedule ? Maybe. With the defense especially, the Tops have shown some significant improvement in the last three weeks. In those three games, the Tops have amassed 15 sacks with just five in their first five games. In their last three games, the Tops have only allowed five touchdowns after allowing 23 through their first five games.
Then again, their opponents in weeks 2-5 were Army, Indiana, Michigan State, and UTSA and their opponents the last three weeks have been Charlotte, FIU, and Old Dominion. All this to say, maybe it’s not a bad thing that the Tops were able to get these rough performances out of the way early so they can establish momentum heading the previously mentioned final stretch of the season as the C-USA East division winner is determined.
Jerreth Sterns: Remember The Name
Understandably so, one storyline surrounding Western Kentucky’s season so far has been Bailey Zapper working his way into the school record books thanks to his yardage and passing touchdown totals. That being said, receiver Jerreth Sterns is earning his own way into those record books. Sterns, who also transferred to WKU this year from Houston Baptist alongside Zappe, Sterns has totaled 1,166 receiving yards on the year, which is the fourth-highest single season total in WKU history. Sterns has also caught 11 touchdowns this season, which is tied for the the fourth-highest single-season total in WKU history. With four games left in the regular season, Sterns has a reasonable chance to break the program records in both of those categories by getting to 1,730 yards and 17 receiving touchdowns.
Jonathan Cruz: Man With The Iron Boot
If there’s one thing that Charlotte can take comfort in from this loss, it’s the performance of their kicker, senior Jonathan Cruz. Cruz matched his own school record in this game with a 56-yard field goal. That field goal also matched the longest made field goal in FBS this season. Only three other kickers have also converted 56-yard attempts this season. Cruz is 5/6 in his career attempting field goals longer than 50 yards.