"WKU red is the new blue," Western Kentucky coach Willie Taggart said after his Sun Belt squad upended its in-state foe from the vaunted Southeastern Conference.
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The Hilltoppers completed the 32-31 overtime upset when running back Antonio Andrews hit quarterback Kawaun Jakes on a 2-yard halfback pass to complete a two-point conversion that wrapped up the win.
It was Western Kentucky's first win over an SEC program and first over a Bowl Championship Series conference foe since the Hilltoppers made the full-time jump to Football Bowl Subdivision in 2009. It also was the school's first victory in four tries against the Commonwealth's flagship university.
"It's huge for our program," Taggart said. "It goes to show how far we've come in just two years. We've been at the bottom. Two years ago we came up here and they beat the bricks off of us. It was time for us to come up here and play like we're capable of."
After Andrews -- who had 125 yards on 34 carries -- scored his third touchdown on the night, Taggart called timeout to set up the winning conversion attempt.
Jakes took the shotgun snap and fired a lateral to Andrews, who took several steps to his right before pulling up and lofting a pass to a wide-open Jakes near the left sideline. The quarterback had a slew of blockers lead the way into the end zone for the game-winning points, sending the Hilltoppers' sideline streaming toward him. Jakes finished the night 16 of 22 for 160 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
"Our guys had been calling for that play all game," Taggart said. "I knew our defense had been struggling the last part of the game. I told our guys, `If we score we're going to go for it all. We're playing to win."'
That set off the wild celebration by the Hilltoppers on the field.
For the Wildcats and coach Joker Phillips, the stunning loss, coupled with the season-opening defeat at Louisville, has put them on the defensive.
The coach declined to say what he told his team following Saturday's setback.
"That's our business," Phillips said. "Again, we give credit to Western Kentucky but what we say in our locker room is our business."
Outside the locker room, Phillips' job security is a topic of discussion.
The defeat ended a 19-game winning streak for Kentucky over opponents from outside Bowl Championship Series conferences, dating back to a 28-16 loss to Ohio on Oct. 2, 2004.
Phillips' support within the Kentucky fan base is eroding.
The announced crowd of 53,980 Saturday night was the smallest since the final home game of the 2006 season and slightly larger than the 48,346 who showed up for the Wildcats' 2012 home opener against Kent State. That was the smallest home crowd since the 1996 finale.
The loss left Kentucky with a 1-2 record and facing a trip to Gainesville to face No. 18 Florida next Saturday, the first of eight games remaining on the schedule against Southeastern Conference foes.
Though Taggart took a swipe at his program, Phillips refused to get into a war of words.
"I'm not about to talk about an opponent," Phillips said. "That's me. Say what you want. I'm not a tough guy. I'm a tough guy because I'm not going to talk about someone else's program. I played at the highest level and it's a shame the game has gotten to this.
"I respect Willie. I think he's done a hell of a job there but I'm not going to talk about another program or have our kids run their mouth and disrespect them. Not going to do it."
Kentucky nearly escaped the carnage with a furious fourth quarter comeback. The Wildcats trailed 17-0 in the first half and 24-17 with just 2:14 to go when quarterback Maxwell Smith engineered a 77-yard scoring drive to send the game into overtime.
"I still think we've got a really good football team," Phillips said. "We've got a lot of young players. We'll continue to play them and see how much they get week to week."
The win was the second in as many weeks for a Sun Belt team over a school from the powerful SEC. Louisiana-Monroe upset then-No. 8 Arkansas in Fayetteville on Sept. 8 and nearly did the same to Auburn earlier Saturday. The loss was Kentucky's second to an in-state foe this season, as the Wildcats were shellacked 32-14 by Louisville in the season opener.
Kentucky scored first in overtime against the Hilltoppers on a 12-yard rush by Jonathan George. The Wildcats had Western Kentucky facing fourth-and-2 from the 5-yard line before being penalized for roughing the passer. Western Kentucky's Andrews scored on the next play and the Hilltoppers called timeout to set up the trick play for the win.
"We're in man-to-man coverage and the only guy you don't have a man accounted for is the quarterback," Phillips said of the conversion attempt. "Great play."
The Hilltoppers dominated early. They raced out to a 17-0 first-half lead, intercepting Kentucky's Maxwell Smith three times - the sophomore quarterback would add another later. Smith did lead Kentucky on a 77-yard scoring drive that culminated in a 22-yard, game-tying touchdown pass to wide receiver DeMarcus Sweat.
Jakes completed 16 of 20 passes for 160 yards and a touchdown and Andrews rushed 34 times for 123 yards and three scores to lead the Hilltoppers' upset victory.
Smith entered the game ranked 24th nationally in total offense but struggled from the outset before coming to life late, completing 37 of 60 passes for 332 yards with two touchdowns and four interceptions. Smith came in having not thrown an interception in 89 pass attempts.
Jonathan Dowling intercepted Smith for the third time - the fourth Western Kentucky interception - early in the fourth quarter but fumbled on the return and Kentucky offensive tackle Darrian Miller recovered, giving the Wildcats another chance. Western Kentucky's defense held firm again, breaking up a Kentucky pass on fourth-and-7 at its own 33 to maintain its 24-17 lead.
|Western Kentucky celebrates after beating Kentucky -- giving the Sun Belt an SEC win for the 2nd straight week. (US Presswire)|
|WKY||Garrett Schwettman 23 yd FG|
|WKY||Antonio Andrews 1 yd run (Garrett Schwettman kick)|
|WKY||Antonio Andrews 1 yd run (Garrett Schwettman kick)|
|UK||Jonathan George 8 yd run (Craig McIntosh kick)|
|UK||Craig McIntosh 47 yd FG|
|WKY||Willie McNeal 13 yd pass from Kawaun Jakes (Garrett Schwettman kick)|
|UK||Jonathan George 15 yd pass from Maxwell Smith (Craig McIntosh kick)|
|UK||DeMarcus Sweat 22 yd pass from Maxwell Smith (Craig McIntosh kick)|
|UK||Jonathan George 11 yd run (Craig McIntosh kick)|
|WKY||Antonio Andrews 2 yd run (Kawaun Jakes 2pt pass from Antonio Andrews)|
|Third Down Efficiency||7-16||9-16|
|Fourth Down Efficiency||1-2||0-2|
|Kick Return Yds||50||117|
|Punt Return Yds||22||28|
|Time of Poss.||36:7||23:53|
|WKY: Antonio Andrews 34-125, Leon Allen 6-20, Kawaun Jakes 8-9, Kadeem Jones 2-5, Rico Brown 1-4|
|UK: Jonathan George 13-51, CoShik Williams 4-4, Gene McCaskill 1--4, Maxwell Smith 1--10|
|WKY: Kawaun Jakes 16-22-160-1|
|UK: Maxwell Smith 37-60-332-4, Team 0-1-0-0|
|WKY: Jack Doyle 4-29, Kadeem Jones 4-23, Antonio Andrews 3-36, Willie McNeal 3-26, Austin Aikens 1-29, Marcus Vasquez 1-17|
|UK: La'Rod King 10-84, Demarco Robinson 7-75, Jonathan George 6-54, Aaron Boyd 4-32, Tyler Robinson 2-31, DeMarcus Sweat 2-24, E.J. Fields 2-6, Daryl Collins 1-16, Ronnie Shields 1-8, Gene McCaskill 1-3, CoShik Williams 1--1|
|Western Kentucky||3rd Sun Belt||4-3||8-4|
|Kentucky||7th SEC East||0-8||2-10|
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