In the middle of a tight race for the C-USA East division crown, the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers helped their cause with a 42-21 victory against the Rice Owls on Saturday.
With the exception of their first half struggles against FIU, WKU had been scoring at will since they entered conference play. To give themselves a chance at victory, the Rice Owls made keeping WKU QB Bailey Zappe off of the field their main objective. They did that with reasonable success in the first half on Saturday, but their inability to find the end zone in the early going created a deficit that their ground-and-pound offense didn’t have time to overcome.
Rice finished the day with 124 yards in the run game. Their total time of possession was 35:14 compared to 24:20 for Western Kentucky. However, the Owls finished the day with four punts in addition to converting seven out of 16 third downs. Rice QB Jake Constantine also threw four interceptions on the day, in addition to completing 28 out of 50 passes for 380 yards. Constantine also fumbled three times, one of which he lost.
Coming into Saturday, Zappe was the nation’s leader in passing touchdowns and passing yards with 37 and 3713, respectively. He finished this game 34 of 42 for 482 yards and five touchdowns with one interception. Freshman QB Chance McDonald also completed one pass for 13 yards on five attempts and threw an interception.
For the Tops, while Zappe was the star once again, freshman running back Kye Robichaux had a game he’ll likely remember for the rest of his career, scoring his first two college touchdowns in this game. One was a two-yard rush in the first quarter and the other was a 13-yard pass in the second quarter.
Junior Mitchell Tinsley out of Lee’s Summit, Missouri was the leading receiver for WKU with ten catches for 198 yards and two touchdowns. Jerreth Stearns continued his stellar season with seven catches for 92 yards.
Western Kentucky improve to 6-4, securing bowl eligibility for the third consecutive season. If Marshall loses to UAB on Saturday, they will take the lead in the C-USA East race. Western Kentucky face Florida Atlantic in Bowling Green on November 20.
Rice fall to 3-7 and will next travel to El Paso for a showdown with UTEP on November 20. With Saturday’s loss, the Owls are eliminated from bowl contention.