It didn’t take long for points to get on the board in the 2021 edition of the rivalry game between the Western Kentucky Hilltoppers and the Middle Tennessee Blue Raiders.
The Blue Raiders scored off a Nick Vattiato pass to DJ England-Chisholm on their first possession. That set the tone for a game that resulted in 69 points between the two teams.
WKU ultimately came out on top 48-21 after forcing seven turnovers, including six interceptions, marking an FBS-era record for the program. Sophomore defensive back Beanie Bishop finished with two, including one that he returned for a touchdown.
Chase Cunningham had been the Blue Raiders’ starter at quarterback since after week three when Bailey Hockman stepped away from football. When Cunningham went down with a lower leg injury against Southern Miss, redshirt sophomore Mike DiLiello filled in admirably. When it was announced late in the week that Cunningham would end up needing to miss the rest of the season, DiLiello looked to be the Blue Raiders’ starter against the Hilltoppers. Then MTSU started the freshman Vattiato instead after the two reportedly both went through reps in practice throughout the week.
Vattiato finished this contest 24 of 41 for the Blue Raiders with two touchdowns, but struggled throughout the day throwing five interceptions.
DiLiello would enter later in the game as well, finishing with three completions on five attempts for 21 yards and an interception.
MTSU’s defense also struggled for most of the game against WKU’s offense in the midst of a prolific season for graduate transfer quarterback Bailey Zappe. Zappe completed the game with 29 completions on 50 attempts and four touchdowns. Zappe was held to a 58% completion percentage, which was his lowest of the season. Zappe also ran for a touchdown.
Zappe’s season total for passing touchdowns comes to 37. That ties Mike White for the third highest single season passing touchdown total in WKU history.
WKU’s Jerreth Sterns finished the day with 11 receptions for 110 yards, putting him over the mark for WKU’s single season receptions record.
Now at 4-1 in conference play, the Tops are still alive in the hunt for the C-USA East title. They will share the division lead with the winner of tonight’s FAU-Marshall game.
WKU can seal bowl eligibility next week with a win against the Rice Owls in Houston. Middle Tennessee will welcome FIU to Murfreesboro on November 13.