BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — Kolton Browning hit Rashon Ceaser on a two-point conversion pass in overtime to give Louisiana-Monroe a 43-42 victory over Western Kentucky on Saturday.
The Warhawks (5-2, 3-0) are now the only undefeated Sun Belt Conference team. The Hilltoppers (5-2, 2-1) lost for the first time in Sun Belt play since Oct. 1, 2011.
Browning’s two-point conversion followed his 4-yard touchdown run that brought the Warhawks within 42-41.
“We had a lot of confidence in the two-point conversion,” ULM coach Todd Berry said. “I knew when the play was called, we had it. As soon as I saw the defense, I knew we had it.”
Western Kentucky had a chance to sack Browning on the play, but he eluded the rush, spun right and found Ceaser, who was running a drag route through the middle of the end zone.
“We lost contain,” Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart said. “We said we can’t lose contain on this quarterback. . We had a guy coming right at him, and we let him outside, and that’s when he’s dangerous because you don’t know whether he’s going to run or pass.”
Browning led the Warhawks back from deficits of 28-7, 35-18 and finally 42-35. He finished 22 of 41 for 308 yards and four passing touchdowns, and ran for 69 yards and two touchdowns.
But while Browning’s overtime heroics clinched the win for ULM, a couple of close officiating calls helped allow for the finish.
The Warhawks, down 35-28 with less than two minutes to play, were facing a third-and-9 at their own 11 when Browning scrambled and was brought down short of the marker.
However Hilltoppers cornerback Tyree Robinson, who assisted on the tackle, was called for a late hit on Browning.
“I thought (Robinson) didn’t touch the kid,” Taggart said. “I thought he jumped right over him. But (the officials) said he hit him, and they called it. It is what it is.”
Browning then marched ULM the rest of the way downfield before hitting Ceaser on a 12-yard touchdown pass with 31 seconds to play.
The next controversial call came after the Warhawks squibbed the ensuing kickoff.
Hilltoppers safety Kiante Young fielded the ball at his 37 with less than a minute left and ran left looking for a seam.
While Young was making the cut upfield, an official stepped in and blew the whistle and said Young’s knee was down on his cut at the 37.
Young, unaware of the whistle, turned upfield and sprinted toward the end zone for the apparent go-ahead score, with ULM defenders chasing.
Taggart, the Western Kentucky sideline and a sold-out Houchens-Smith Stadium voiced their displeasure with the call.
“He wasn’t down,” Taggart said.
Western Kentucky got the first possession of overtime and took just two plays to score.
Quarterback Kawaun Jakes hit tight end Jack Doyle on a 16-yard pass on the first play to get the Hilltoppers inside the ULM 10.
On the next play, Jakes rolled out on a naked bootleg, juked past a Warhawks’ defender and walked into the end zone. The extra point put Western Kentucky up 42-35.
Jakes finished 25 of 32 for 308 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. His 308 passing yards were the most for a Hilltoppers’ quarterback since J.J. Jewell had 354 in a 1994 game.
All four of Jakes’ touchdown passes came in the first 25 minutes of the game, helping Western Kentucky jump to a 28-7 lead.
Jakes hit Willie McNeal on a 22-yard pass, Doyle from 12 yards, Austin Aikens from 5 yards out and Doyle again on a 19-yard touchdown pass.
However Browning ran for one touchdown and threw for another in the first half’s final four minutes to make the halftime score 28-21 in favor of Western Kentucky.
A fourth-quarter pass from Browning to Colby Harper tied the game at 28.