The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers earned a victory in the first game of the FBS season on Saturday. It wasn’t without it’s hiccups, but it was a start on the right foot for Tyson Helton’s team.
The Hilltoppers finished the day with 276 passing yards, their lowest total since 2020. West Florida transfer QB Austin Reed finished the day with 19 completions on 33 attempts for 276 yards, four touchdowns and one interception.
Defensively, WKU forced three turnovers against an Austin Peay offense led by former Middle Tennessee quarterback Mike Diliello, former WKU running back Josh Samuel, and All-ASUN preseason selection Drae McCray.
While the Tops punted on their first offensive possession, they took the ball back a few plays later when the first interception of the 2022 FBS season went to the Miami Central product A.J. Brathwaite JR. The Tops followed that up with a seven play, 51-yard drive that ended with Austin Reed’s first D1 touchdown pass to Malachi Corley.
Austin Peay would answer on their second possession with a 51-yard field goal by Maddux Trujillo. Then on their third possession, the Governors added a touchdown with a 44-yard touchdown pass to McCray from Diliello.
Corley picked up his second touchdown of the day late in the first quarter on a short route (11 yards) from Reed that saw him barrel through two defenders into the end zone.
BRINGING THE BOOM.— CBS Sports Network (@CBSSportsNet) August 27, 2022
Malachi Corley TRUCKS his way into the end zone. pic.twitter.com/B1Ps0vgC5I
With abut four and a half minutes left in the second quarter, the WKU defense received a gift when Diliello threw a pass right to Tops’ defensive back Upton Stout in the flat, who ran in the pick six untouched.
Just before the half, Diliello attempted to make up for his mistake by running in a short touchdown to make it 21-17, with the extra point.
The second half seemed to have a different pace to it as the rain started to come down in Bowling Green. Austin Peay continued to control the clock and establish the run game in the third quarter and managed to grab a 49-yard field goal from Trujillo through a hard burst of rain.
In the fourth quarter, WKU caught a lucky break with a holding call against the Austin Peay defense on a long pass play that moved them deep into Austin Peay territory. The Tops finished that drive a two plays later by once again finding Corley in the end zone for a 25-yard score.
The Tops forced their third turnover of the day after a high snap by Austin Peay and a forced fumble recovered by Aaron Key. A few plays later, Austin Reed found Daewood Davis way downfield for a 48-yard touchdown pass.
WKU continued this strategy for the rest of the game. It did result in Reed’s first pick of the year on the drive after the Davis touchdown.
McCray added his second touchdown of the game for the Governors on a 24-yard pass by Diliello. This was preceded by a long double pass play that ended in an unnecessary roughness call against WKU, which put Austin Peay in prime scoring position.
The Tops caught another break when the Governors were called for pass interference in the end zone, moving them back into prime scoring position. They could only manage a field goal as Brayden Narveson added his first of the year. On the ensuing kickoff, McCrae fumbled the return and it was ultimately recovered by the Tops with just over three minutes left.
After a short drive, Tyson Helton elected to have his team take a knee to end the game with an 11-point lead.
Some may have been expecting a bigger blowout by WKU, but it’s not unheard of for the Tops to walk in a season opener before they break into a run later in the season. Plus give credit to head coach Scotty Walden and this FCS program that’s on an upward trajectory.
Welcome back, football.