WKU comes from behind to beat USF in Miami Beach Bowl
Playing in his final collegiate game, Western Kentucky star quarterback Brandon Doughty had a rough first half.
The second half was a different story.
After falling behind South Florida 14-10 at the half, Doughty and the Hilltoppers exploded for 35 second-half points to come back and win the Miami Beach Bowl, 45-35. In the win, which gave WKU a program record 12 wins on the season, Doughty threw for 461 yards and three touchdowns as the Hilltoppers racked up a whopping 612 yards of total offense.
Doughty threw touchdown passes of 69, 55 and 26 yards in the third quarter, allowing WKU to build up a sizeable lead. And when the Bulls, led by dual-threat sophomore Quinton Flowers, managed to cut the Hilltoppers’ lead to three early in the fourth quarter, junior running back Anthony Wales broke off a 42-yard touchdown run in the final five minutes to seal the victory for WKU.
Though the game ended up swinging in WKU’s favor, the Bulls controlled things early on. The USF defense forced a fumble, turnover on downs, a punt and an interception on WKU’s first four possessions.
As Doughty and the WKU offense struggled to get into rhythm, USF, which finished with 597 yards of offense, jumped out to a 14-0 lead via Flowers and Rodney Adams touchdown runs.
The Hilltoppers didn’t get on the board until Wales scored from 13 yards out late in the second quarter. Garrett Schwettman then added a 39-yard field goal to cut USF’s lead to 14-10 at the break.
That success from late in the second quarter carried over into the second half for WKU. The Hilltoppers reached the end zone on their first four second half drives – three Doughty TD passes and a Nacarius Fant run – while the Bulls did their best to keep pace.
WKU’s lead was 38-21 when the third quarter ended and Flowers found Adams behind the defense for a 53-yard score on the first play of the fourth quarter, cutting WKU’s lead to 38-28.
The Hilltoppers went three-and-out on the next drive, and the speedy Flowers quickly went back to work. Flowers, who finished with 273 yards throwing and 109 yards on the ground, scored his second rushing touchdown of the game to cut the WKU lead to three.
And when Doughty was intercepted on a deflection on WKU’s next possession, USF looked primed to take the lead. Instead, the WKU defense came up big and forced a 54-yard field goal try, which sailed wide left.
Two plays after the missed field goal, Wales (14 carries, 105 yards, 2 TDs) put the game out of reach with a 42-yard score.
The win caps off a fantastic season for Western Kentucky (12-2), which is in just its eighth season at the FBS level. The Hilltoppers won their first Conference USA title and now their second straight bowl game. Doughty has set records in the process and finished his senior season with 5,055 yards, 48 touchdowns and only nine interceptions.
For South Florida (8-5), the loss is a disappointing end to what was a resurgent season for the program. After a 1-3 start, head coach Willie Taggart appeared to be on the hot seat. The Bulls then won seven of their final eight regular season games, which earned Taggart a contract extension.
The Bulls are chock full of young talent and appear to be a team to watch in a highly competitive American Athletic Conference moving forward.
For more Western Kentucky news, InsideHilltopperSports.com.
For more USF news, visit RunningTheBulls.com.
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Sam Cooper is a contributor for the Yahoo Sports blogs. Have a tip? Email him or follow him on Twitter!