Monday, December 21, 2015

Western Kentucky Hilltoppers: 2015 Miami Beach Bowl Champions

MIAMI -- A feel-good Western Kentucky football season ended in heartbreak, but for the Hilltoppers, the good kind.

South Florida led by two touchdowns early in Monday's Miami Beach Bowl, weathered a run of 24 straight WKU points and pulled to within one possession during the fourth quarter.

WKU hit back each time in a 45-35, season-ending victory at Marlins Park. Just when the Bulls had hope, it often vanished.

Heartbreaking, really. It's what the great teams do, and after finishing 12-2, matching the program record for victories first set during the 2002 I-AA national title season, this bunch will go down as one of WKU's best.

Second-year coach Jeff Brohm's squad likely secured spots in the final Associated Press and coaches polls, adding to a Conference USA championship won earlier this month. The Louisville native Brohm's also due for a raise, and perhaps one more spin through the coaching carousel should it start again.

Credit goes to an up-and-down day by Brohm's offense, which received few favors from its defensive counterparts.

Brandon Doughty completed 32 of 44 passes for 461 yards in his final college game, and that was after a 10 of 19 start that included an early interception. The performance made the sixth-year senior the first WKU quarterback to top 5,000 yards passing in a season and third in C-USA history.

Top Miami Beach Bowl target Nicholas Norris pushed him over the mark.

Doughty in the third quarter hit the junior Norris for back-to-back touchdowns, one for 69 yards and another for 55. His catches moved the Hilltoppers ahead for good, with a 9-yard Nacarius Fant rush, acrobatic Jared Dangerfield catch and 42-yard Anthony "Ace" Wales rush enough to hold on late.

But there was plenty of doubt as USF quarterback Quinton Flowers danced in open field for most of the afternoon, rallying the Bulls from a 38-21 deficit at the end of the third quarter. On the opening play of the fourth, Flowers threw 53 yards to Rodney Adams for a score. And on USF's next drive, his 8-yard keeper made it a 38-35 game.

From there, however, the Bulls were stopped twice on fourth down and missed a 54-yard field that would have, at the time, tied the score.

One last quick-strike scoring drive put WKU over the top. A play before the Louisville native Wales raced up the right sideline for a touchdown, Doughty set it up with a flea-flicker completion to Antwane Grant.

Playing in his home state, Doughty was near perfect after the Hilltoppers' opening five drives ended with two punts, a turnover on downs and his interception. From there, he completed 22 of 25 passes, going out on a high note and against the coach who signed him, WKU graduate Willie Taggart.
Post a Comment