Interim Western Kentucky head coach Lance Guidry punctuated his fiery and emotional pregame speech to the Hilltoppers with a rousing battle cry of “LET’S GO GET OUR DAMN TROPHY!!!*”
Instead, it was Central Michigan that got their damn trophy.
Thanks in part to what some have and will continue to label a questionable late-game decision on the part of WKU, the Chippewas claimed the Little Caesars Bowl with a 24-21 win over the Hilltoppers. Senior quarterback Ryan Radcliff threw for 253 yards and accounted for all three of CMU’s touchdowns, while wide receivers Andrew Flory and Cody Wilson, taking on a bigger role in the passing game thanks to suspensions for the Chips’ top two receivers, combined for 13 receptions and 206 yards. The duo was on the receiving end of all three of Radcliff’s scoring strikes.
The Hilltoppers were playing in their first bowl game at the FBS level.
Both CMU and WKU finish the season at 7-6, although it could’ve been a vastly different won-loss scenario had the final minute-plus played out differently.
After CMU went up 24-21 with 5:11 left in the fourth quarter, WKU drove down to the Chips’ 19-yard line with just over a minute to play. Facing a fourth and two, the Hilltoppers called a timeout with :51 to discuss going for it or kicking what would’ve been a 36-yard field goal attempt that could’ve sent the game into overtime. Landry opted for the former option and played for the win; defeat and the loss of the damn trophy became the reality as quarterback Kawaun Jakes‘ pass sailed incomplete.
For those screaming at your TV screen at the time or at your monitor at the moment that they should’ve kicked the “automatic” field goal to tie the game, WKU’s kicker was just 2-of-5 this season on kicks beyond 30 yards. Personally, I applaud Guidry grabbing his post-Christmas jingle bells and going for the win — the play-call, on the other hand, left him open to criticism — but your mileage may vary.
Entering the game, the overriding storyline was WKU running back Antonio Andrews chasing history. With 2,997 all-purpose yards, Andrews was just 274 yards behind the single-season mark set by Barry Sanders in 1988 during the legend’s final season at Oklahoma State. Alas, Sanders’ record is safe for another season as Andrews finished the game with 184 yards — 119 rushing, 21 receiving, 40 on kick returns and four on punt returns.
Additionally, the game’s end marked the official beginning of the Bobby Petrino era at WKU. The former Arkansas head coach, who left the Razorbacks in disgrace this past spring, was hired to replace Willie Taggart, who left the Hilltoppers to take over at USF. Petrino was expected to be at the game, but travel issues prevented him from being there and no a motorcycle wasn’t involved so just stop it right now.
(*yes, Guidry screamed in italicized all-caps. And exclamation points.)