The new “run and gun offense” by first year offensive coordinator Zach Kittley did not disappoint as the Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers scored points in eight consecutive offensive possessions in their season home opening win last Thursday night at Houchens Industries L.T. Smith Stadium at Feix Field.
““It was a good first win, a lot of positives and a lot of things to build off of,” Hilltoppers’ head football coach Tyson Helton said. “Felt like the guys were in it the whole game they were playing for each other and really happy for the overall performance. Now if we got to go back to the drawing board, correct some mistakes we had and correct some things that get you beat, but it was a good first win and we celebrate all wins. So, very happy for this football team.”
After giving up a game-opening Skyhawks’ touchdown drive, the Hilltoppers’ offense got going on their offensive possession, a 73-yard touchdown pass and run from graduate senior Bailey Zappe to redshirt junior Daewood Davis tied the game at 7-7 in the 1st Quarter.
The 2nd Quarter featured WKU with three consecutive touchdown passing scoring drives by Zappe; 10-yard catch by junior Michael Tinsley; 21-yard catch and run by junior Jerreth Sterns and an 11-yard pass and run by freshman Malachi Corley. UT-Martin bookended the first half with a touchdown, making the score 28-14 at halftime.
The Hilltoppers’ offense did not miss a beat with Zappe throwing two more touchdown passes with an 8- yard pass to Sterns, his second of the game, and a 45- yard catch and run by sophomore Josh Simon for a 45-14 lead at the end of the 3rd Quarter.
Simon caught his second touchdown pass and Zappe’s seventh of the game with a 3-yard touchdown early in the 4th Quarter. Redshirt sophomore Carson Baker added a 54-yard touchdown pass and run to junior Craig Burt, Jr. as WKU won their season debut game in spectacular fashion 59-21 over the UT-Martin Skyhawks.
“Not a very good game by us,” Skyhawks head football coach Jason Simpson said. “Any time you give up 50-something points and eight touchdown passes, you can’t be pleased with that. You’ll go through the tape and there’ll be some victories that you’ve had, some stops. But that’s how the game goes.”
WKU outgained UT-Martin 587-397 in total yards of offense. Bailey Zappe completed 28 of his 35 passes for 424 yards with seven touchdowns with an interception. He became the second Hilltoppers’ quarterback to throw seven or more touchdowns in a game, joining Brandon Doughty in 2014 against the Marshall Thundering Herd, and the first quarterback to throw seven touchdowns in a home game in program history.
“It’s an amazing feeling, personally I am a big football fanatic,” Bailey Zappe said. “I have personally gone back to watch the Brandon Doughty days and to be able to see him do what he did on the field is incredible, and then you had Mike White right after him and then Ty Storey. You know those three back-to-back-to-back quarterbacks are all great quarterbacks and did great things here. Just to be able to be compared to those guys are awesome. You know we are only one week in, hopefully we can carry it on for the next 11 to 12 weeks. It’s an awesome feeling to be compared to those guys, they are WKU greats, so it’s really nice.”
“We are pedal to the metal all the time and he (Bailey Zappe) tried to take an early shot versus man coverage, left the ball a little bit inside,” Helkton said. “But that is what I love about him, he is one snap and clear, he doesn’t have a memory when it comes to that kind of stuff. So, he went right back out there and probably lit a fire underneath him to go out there and do what he did tonight. With the style of offense that we play you are going to have to live with some of that, but it was good to see him rebound very quickly from that.”
The Hilltoppers will be on the road Saturday at the Army Black Knights. Kickoff time is at 10:30 a.m. and 1220 WFKN Franklin radio will broadcast the game starting at 9:30 a.m. with the Hilltoppers’ Tailgating Pre-Game Show.