The Western Kentucky University Hilltoppers (4-2, 2-1 conference) celebrated Homecoming weekend by playing the Charlotte 49ers (0-7, 0-3 conference) for the very first time in a Conference USA football game, claiming a 45-14 victory for their third win in a row.
"The theme of the week for us was family. I wanted to see a team, a program, our coaches, players and everybody involved to truly do everything they could for each other," Hilltoppers Head Coach Mike Sanford said. "I feel like that was an area that was holding us back and just working through the maturity of young players playing and wanting to get their opportunities. Tonight our players and our coaches really played and coached for one another and had each other's back in every situation."
On their opening possession of the game, the Hilltoppers drove 78 yards in 17 plays for the first touchdown of the game as redshirt senior quarterback Mike White threw an 8-yard touchdown pass to redshirt senior Deon Yelder. Redshirt junior Ryan Nuss kicked the extra point for a 7-0 lead.
The 49ers responded on their opening possession of the game as they drove 80 yards in 10 plays to tie the game. Redshirt freshman Aaron McAllister reversed his field of carry and scampered 9 yards for the touchdown. Redshirt sophomore Jackson Vansickle kicked the extra point, tying the game at 7-7.
Western Kentucky struck quickly on their next drive as they drove 80 yards in five plays. White threw his second touchdown pass of the game, a 59-yard touchdown catch and run to redshirt senior Kylen Towner. Nuss kicked the extra point as the Hilltoppers regained the lead at 14-7.
The Hilltoppers broke the game open in the second quarter as they outscored the 49ers 24-7. On the 10th play of their 69-yard drive, White ran for a 2-yard touchdown and with Nuss' extra point, Western Kentucky led 21-7.
On the ensuing possession, Charlotte hit the Hilltoppers with a huge play as McAllister ran for an 89-yard touchdown. Vansickle kicked the extra point, cutting their deficit down to 21-14.
Western Kentucky hit Charlotte with three quick scores as they drove 76 yards in seven plays. White threw his third touchdown pass of the game with a 20-yard pass to redshirt junior Mik'quan Deane. The extra point by Nuss gave the Hilltoppers a 28-14 lead.
Western Kentucky's defense forced the only turnover from Charlotte as redshirt junior Juwan Gardner jumped the passing route for an interception from 49ers' redshirt junior quarterback Brooks Barden. But Charlotte's defense held the Hilltoppers to a 43-yard field goal by Nuss, giving them a 31-14 lead.
Western Kentucky put up one more touchdown in the quarter, driving 44 yards in four plays as senior Nacarius Fant caught a 13-yard touchdown pass from White, his fourth of the first half. Nuss' extra point gave the Hilltoppers a 38-14 lead at halftime.
At halftime, Franklin-Simpson High School alumnae Jenna Curtis and McKenzie Wilson were honored as part of the WKU 2017 Homecoming Court. Baptist Campus Ministries sponsored Curtis, and Alpha Omicron Pi sorority and Phi Delta Theta fraternity sponsored Wilson.
In the fourth quarter, White threw his fifth touchdown of the game with a 30-yard touchdown pass to freshman Jacquez Sloan. Nuss' extra point placed the finishing touch on an exciting night for Western Kentucky as they celebrated Homecoming with a 45-14 victory over Charlotte.
The Hilltoppers outgained the 49ers 627-309 in total yards of offense. White completed 33 of his 47 passes for 398 yards for five touchdowns. He, along with backup quarterback, redshirt junior Drew Echols, completed 40 passes to 15 different receivers.
"I think that's the coolest statistic I've ever been a part of," White said. "Whenever you can go out there and get all your guys involved and get everybody the ball, who knows? One of those is bound to break and it happened today."
Quinton Baker had 14 carries for 74 yards rushing and D'Andre Ferby had five carries for 34 yards. Kylen Towner had six receptions for 111 yards for a touchdown and Deon Yelder had seven receptions for 92 yards also for a touchdown.
Aaron McAllister had 22 carries for 157 yards rushing for two touchdowns with Brooks Barden having 89 yards rushing on four carries. Barden completed nine of his 18 passes for 61 yards with an interception.
The Hilltoppers will head to Norfolk, Virginia, for a Conference USA game against the Old Dominion Monarchs on Friday, Oct. 20, with kickoff scheduled for 6 p.m.