ULL takeaways lead to 37-20 win over Hilltoppers
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — In a game that early on looked headed for a blowout win for Western Kentucky, Louisiana-Lafayette turned a couple second-quarter turnovers into a pair of touchdowns, sending the Ragin’ Cajuns to a 37-20 victory over the Hilltoppers before 16,359 at Houchens-Smith Stadium and a national television audience on ESPN2.
With the victory in a semi-rare Tuesday night game, ULL improved to 2-0 in the Sun Belt Conference and 4-2 overall, while the host Hilltoppers under first-year coach Bobby Petrino fell to 1-2, 4-3.
Although UL-Lafayette took control in the second half by pounding away with a ground game that churned out first downs, it was the defense that turned the ship around after WKU had gone ahead 10-0 early and was 1 yard away from making it 17-0 in the second quarter.
But defensive back Al Riles and linebacker Justin Anderson made a handful of big plays that changed the makeup of the game and surely pleased coach Mark Hudspeth.
Riles got the Cajuns on the scoreboard with a 99-yard interception return for a touchdown midway through the second quarter, stepping in front of WKU quarterback Brandon Doughty’s fourth-and-goal pass and going all the way to cut WKU’s lead to 10-7.
“The funny thing was, I went to the wrong side on the play, but when I saw their fullback go out, I just sat on the pass,” said Riles, who also had a key fourth-down sack in the fourth quarter that stalled a WKU drive at the ULL 24 with the Cajuns clinging to a 10-point lead.
“I played quarterback in high school, so I know what to do with the ball once you get on the other side of it,” Riles said of his pick-six.
Anderson did his part, as well, twice forcing turnovers by hitting WKU tight end Mitchell Henry just as Henry caught passes. In a case of football déjà vu, each time Anderson forced a fumble, the Cajuns converted it into a touchdown — once in the second quarter and again in the fourth.
“The first time, I thought the ball might slip through his fingers, but he snagged it and I just ripped it out from him,” said Anderson, who returned his first takeaway 45 yards to the WKU 35.
Added Hudspeth: “Coming into the game, all we heard was how great (WKU’s) linebackers were, and if Justin Anderson isn’t in the same conversation, then something is wrong. He just has a knack for the ball.”
Tied 13-13 at halftime, the Cajuns took control on their first drive of the third quarter, eating up almost eight minutes with a 15-play drive — the first 14 on the ground — that led to a Stephen Brauchle 23-yard field goal, making it 16-13 with 7:04 left in the third quarter.
ULL then followed with an 80-yard drive. Quarterback Terrance Broadway scored on a 1-yard keeper, set up a play earlier by Alonzo Harris’s twisting, spinning 20-yard run to the 1. Broadway’s touchdown put the Cajuns up 23-13 with 1:21 left in the third.
Broadway also had a hand in ULL’s next score, a 24-yard pass to tight end Jacob Maxwell that made it 30-13. That was immediately after Anderson had ripped the ball loose from Henry a second time.
Harris closed out the ULL scoring, capping a late 77-yard drive with a 2-yard scoring run that made it 37-20, after WKU had scored its only points of the second half earlier in the fourth quarter.
WKU’s twice going for it on fourth down in the second quarter turned out remarkably well for the Ragin’ Cajuns. Both times the Hilltoppers turned it over on pass plays, leading to a pair of UL-Lafayette touchdowns — starting with Riles’ 99-yard interception return.
Riles’ score cut WKU’s lead to 10-7 with 6:41 left in the half. It was Anderson’s turn later in the second quarter. On a fourth-and-9 from the UL-Lafayette 29, Doughty rifled a pass over the middle to Henry, who caught the ball and was hit by Anderson, who ripped the ball loose.