BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers moved one step closer to their goal of winning the Conference USA championship by routing Marshall 49-28 on Friday to win the East Division of Conference USA.
Brandon Doughty threw for 370 yards and five touchdowns as the Hilltoppers (10-2, 8-0) earned the right to host the conference championship game on Dec. 5 against the winner of Saturday’s game between Southern Miss and Louisiana Tech to determine the West Division champion.
“I’m definitely excited and happy after this win right here. It was a huge win for our team,” Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm said. “It’s something that we’ve been working hard and long for all year long, since the end of last year. Our guys have put in a lot of time and effort and that’s everybody; players, coaches, administrative staff, support staff strength coaches. It’s a team effort, and our guys found a way to come out today.”
Doughty became the first quarterback in Division I history to have consecutive seasons with more than 4,000 yards passing and 40 touchdown throws. Doughty completed 27 of his 39 passes against the Thundering Herd (9-3, 6-2). He has 42 touchdown passes for 4,214 yards this season.
Doughty, however, was more focused on Friday’s win and playing in the title game next week than his individual milestone.
“I think we’ve put in the work up to this point, and it’s paying off for us. Huge win today against a good team. Coach (Brohm) kind of echoed it in the locker room but it kind of resonated with me, they had the (East Division) title until we took it from them today. That was a huge victory for us. For our team to go out there and do it as a team effort,” Doughty said. “We’re going to enjoy it tonight, enjoy it probably this weekend, but Monday we are back at it. The goals are still there. The goal was not to win the East. The goal was to win the conference championship.”
The Hilltoppers needed just three plays and 44 seconds to find the end zone in the opening series. Nicholas Norris hauled in Doughty’s pass on a short inside route and turned it into a 35-yard catch and run for the game’s first touchdown.
Western Kentucky added two more touchdowns early in the second quarter, a 15-yard run from Anthony Wales, followed by Doughty’s 5-yard touchdown pass to Tyler Higbee that pushed the lead to 21-0 with 6:21 to play in the half.
Marshall finally got on the scoreboard when Deandre Reeves returned the ensuing kickoff 97 yards up the right sideline to make it 21-7.
But Western Kentucky’s offense continued to pile up points and yards, scoring three more times in the period as part of a first half that included 54 plays and 424 yards of total offense in the two quarters. The Hilltoppers led 35-14 at halftime and coasted to victory by adding a pair of field goals from Garrett Schwettman in the third quarter and Doughty’s fifth TD pass, a 19-yarder to Antwane Grant in the fourth quarter.
In addition to Doughty’s big day passing, the Hilltoppers rushing attack was strong as well. Wales had 24 carries for 131 yards, while D’Andre Ferby added 62 yards on 12 carries.
While Western Kentucky dominated the game, it was by no means a perfect outing for the Hilltoppers, who had two turnovers and 102 penalty yards on eight infractions.
“You know it wasn’t perfect at times, but our guys found a way to play harder, play tougher. It wasn’t our smartest game, but normally that’s one of our goals as well” Brohm said. “Our guys really put forth a great effort. It was a big win against a good team, and we’re happy to be exactly where we’re at.”