BOWLING GREEN, Ky. – On a night where the offense was struggling to move the ball and score points, the WKU defense stepped up in a big way by forcing four turnovers to lift the Hilltoppers to a 20-17 victory over UAB on Friday night at Houchens-Smith Stadium.
The victory was WKU’s second straight and lifted the Tops to 5-3 on the season and 3-1 in Conference USA competition.
“Big win for our team tonight,” said WKU Head Coach Tyson Helton. “Cannot say enough about our defense. They were fantastic against a really really good UAB offense. I haven’t even seen the stats yet, but time after time they showed up, they came up with turnovers and tackles for loss and that’s how you win by playing great defense. And we were not pretty by any means offensively. We shot ourselves in the foot at times and it made it hard on our defense. At the end of the day, we found a way to win. You know my saying, celebrate all wins, so we are going to celebrate this win. We get to still control our destiny in the conference which is good, and we will get ready for North Texas next week.”
On its opening possession, UAB struck quickly via a 59-yard touchdown pass to take a 7-0 lead just minutes into the game. That would mark the end of UAB’s efficiency for the night as the WKU defense held the Blazers in check for the remainder of the game, forcing three turnovers along the way.
Kahlef Hailassie was the star for the Hilltopper defense Friday night, finishing the game with five tackles, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery and an interception that secured the victory. After the WKU offense failed to score and put the game away on its second-to-last drive of the night, UAB got the ball and drove the length of the field on its final possession. The Blazers made it all the way to the WKU 10-yard line and were threatening to take the lead, but Hailassie stepped in front of a pass attempt to the front corner of the end zone and brought down the interception to give the ball back to the offense who then ran out the clock.
In addition to Hailassie’s heroics, Juwuan Jones recovered a fumble forced by Brodric Martin and JaQues Evans recovered a fumble forced by Hailassie. Evans returned his recovery 29 yards to the UAB six-yard line which set up an Austin Reed touchdown run from one yard out just a few plays later. Evans also finished the game as WKU’s leading tackler with nine, including one for loss.
UAB’s defense did everything it could to limit the WKU passing game on the night, so the Hilltoppers took what the defense gave them and committed to the rushing attack for most of the game. A new face in true freshman L.T. Sanders stepped into the spotlight when his number was called and led WKU with a career best 120 rushing yards on 16 carries. Also efficient in the rushing game was Davion Ervin-Poindexter who had his best rushing yardage output in a Hilltopper uniform with 82 yards on 15 tries. Reed also got in on the fun in the rushing game with 23 yards, including a 20-yard touchdown in the second quarter.
Reed’s touchdown rush was the exclamation point on the WKU offense’s best drive of the night. After Hailassie recovered a fumble forced by Talique Allen on the UAB 47-yard line, it took the Tops just four plays to score thanks to big runs by Ervin-Poindexter and Reed. Reed would go on to finish the game with 128 yards passing while completing 14-of-23 attempts. Malachi Corley was his top target on the night with 77 yards on five catches.
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COURTESY WESTERN KENTUCKY ATHLETIC COMMUNICATIONS