Western Kentucky beats Southern Miss for CUSA title
BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) – Brandon Doughty finished off his final home game for Western Kentucky with something he didn’t believe was possible when he came to the school in 2011 – a conference championship.
Doughty threw for 410 yards with three touchdown passes and Western Kentucky came from behind to defeat Southern Mississippi 45-28 in the Conference USA Championship Game on Saturday.
“This is just the start of our program. Winning a conference championship, I would have never thought we would have done it five or six years ago. But we did it today and it’s just the start,” Doughty said.
Doughty finished with 34 completions in 52 attempts, shaking off a first-half interception that helped put the East Division champion Hilltoppers in a 14-point first-half hole.
“I don’t think we were executing early in the game. We kind of got away from it and got caught up in the moment a little bit. We had to settle down a little bit, myself included,” Doughty said.
The Hilltoppers (11-2, 8-0) trailed 21-7 at the 9:46 mark of the first half and 28-21 early in the third quarter before scoring 24 unanswered points to put the game away and claim their first C-USA championship. Western Kentucky joined the conference two years ago.
“This is what we were shooting for, the conference championship,” Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm said. “Last week (against Marshall) was big for us. We got the win and got to advance to the conference championship game. To me this was our Super Bowl.
“I feel great about what we’ve accomplished to this point, and our reward is to go to a bowl game and see if we can add to it.”
The Hilltoppers find out Sunday what bowl invitation they will receive.
Taywan Taylor had eight catches for 165 yards and two touchdowns for WKU.
Nick Mullins was 15 of 30 for 181 yards with a touchdown for Southern Miss, but threw three costly interceptions.
Western Kentucky scored on its first possession of the game on Doughty’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Antwane Grant, but the Golden Eagles (9-4, 7-1) scored 21 straight points to take a two-score lead in the second quarter.
Southern Miss benefited from two short Western Kentucky punts, getting the football at the WKU 45 and going five plays for a score with Jalen Richard capping the drive from two yards away to tie the game.
On the next series, Southern Miss took over at the Hilltopper 32 and scored six plays later on Michael Thomas’ 5-yard touchdown reception from Mullens.
The Golden Eagles built on their lead when Kalan Reed intercepted Doughty’s pass and returned it 40 yards for a score.
But the Hilltoppers scored two touchdowns in the final 2:52 of the first half to tie the game. Western Kentucky first went 75 yards in 19 plays, with Doughty scoring on a 3-yard scramble to cut into the Southern Miss lead.
Then, with 1:11 to go, the Hilltoppers took possession at their own 3. Doughty marched Western Kentucky downfield, getting the tying touchdown on a 2-yard pass to Taylor with 11 seconds in the half.
Southern Mississippi regained the lead on its first possession of the second half. Ito Smith broke through the line and raced 37 yards to put the Eagles up 28-21.
Western Kentucky answered with Garrett Schwettman’s 37-yard field goal to cut the lead to 28-24.
On the ensuing possession, Hilltoppers cornerback Wonderful Terry picked off Mullins’ pass and returned it to his own 33. From there, WKU took the lead, going 67 yards in five plays with a 39-yard touchdown pass from Doughty to Taylor, putting Western Kentucky ahead for good with 1:19 to play in the third.
The Hilltoppers continued to pad the lead as Doughty hit Taylor on a 54-yard pass that set up Andre Ferby’s 2-yard touchdown to push the lead to 38-28. Ferby then capped another touchdown drive with 5:01 to play to ice the game.
“We got worn out in the second half – our defense did,” Southern Miss coach Todd Monken said. “We weren’t able to move the football like we are capable of. We got out-coached. We got out-played today. That’s the way it is. But, I am proud of our team. We’ve come a long way.”