Football

Hilltoppers cross their fingers for a bowl invite

Western Kentucky quarterback Kawaun Jakes and head coach Willie Taggart celebrated a 41-18 win over Troy Saturday. After starting 0-4, the Hilltoppers won seven of their last eight games.
Western Kentucky quarterback Kawaun Jakes and head coach Willie Taggart celebrated a 41-18 win over Troy Saturday. After starting 0-4, the Hilltoppers won seven of their last eight games. AP

Western Kentucky completed a turnaround Saturday not easily comprehended.

The Hilltoppers (7-5, 7-1 Sun Belt Conference) showed few signs of promise after an 0-4 start to the year. Going winless through four weeks also made them 4-36 in their past 40 games since 2007.

Something clicked, however, and the team won seven of its final eight to end the year. The 7-1 league record is a five-game turnaround from last year's 2-6 finish. The squad can also claim a share of the Sun Belt title should Arkansas State lose to Troy on Saturday.

Willie Taggart, the former star quarterback for the Toppers, led the way in his second year at the helm. He uses metaphors of being in a cocoon, climbing the mountain and planting a victorious flag to motivate his players.

Taggart voted his team first place in the conference's pre-season poll — the only first-place vote WKU got.

"These kids, what they've been through, everybody told 'em they suck," Taggart said. "We got in our cocoon, we went out and took care of our business. We used that as motivation. The motivation for us was people telling us what we couldn't be."

The Hilltoppers have still never defeated a Football Bowl Subdivision team that doesn't play in the Sun Belt Conference. They might get a chance to do that soon if the team is chosen to play in a post-season game.

Western Kentucky has not been invited to a bowl game and will have to wait to be contacted by bowl officials.

Rainey player of the week

Senior running back Bobby Rainey was named Sun Belt Conference Offensive Player of the Week Monday. Rainey became WKU's all-time leading rusher Saturday, surpassing Lerron Moore on the career list with a season-high 227 yards in the Hilltoppers win over Troy.

Rainey found the end zone three times in the game — his second game of the season with three rushing scores.

Rainey also broke WKU's single-season rushing record, ending the regular season with 1,695 yards.

Rainey carried a season-high 43 times against the Trojans, averaging 5.3 yards per carry. He now leads the nation in carries for the second straight season.

Notes

Western Kentucky ranks 34th in the nation in rushing offense, 45th in rushing defense, 53rd in total defense, eighth in kickoff returns, 35th in tackles for loss and tied for 34th in sacks. ... Sophomore linebacker Andrew Jackson is 41st in the nation with 9.08 tackles per game and tied for 13th with 1.42 tackles for loss per game.

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