Southern Mississippi had scored 21 straight points to take a solid 21-7 lead on Western Kentucky, but big plays in the final minutes of the half have made for a much more wide-open Conference USA Championship Game. Western Kentucky quarterback Brandon Doughty completed a long pass down the right side of the field to Taywan Taylor for a 49-yard gain, and two plays later the two connected again for a game-tying touchdown (21-21) that gave the home team all of the momentum going to halftime.
Western Kentucky struck early to capitalize on an early miscue by Southern Miss. Nick Mullens was picked off by Branden Leston to put the Hilltoppers right at the Southern Miss 28-yard line. A 21-yard run by Anthony Wales put WKU at the five-yard line and Antwane Grant pulled in a short touchdown pass from Brandon Doughty for the first score of the game.
The teams exchanged punts on the next couple of possessions, but the Golden Eagles got things going on their next possession, which started just on Western Kentucky’s side of the 50, from the 45-yard line. Mullens redeemed himself with a pair of passes for first downs on successive plays and Jalen Richard picked up a short two-yard touchdown run to draw even at 7-7. The Golden Eagles took their first lead, 14-7, when Michael Thomas caught a rocket across the middle fo the field for a five-yard touchdown to cap a short 32-yard touchdown drive following a 27-yard Western Kentucky punt from their five-yard line. The lead was soon expanded to 21-7 when Doughty’s pass was picked off by Kalan Reed and returned 40 yards for a touchdown.
Doughty made sure Western Kentucky got to halftime with some reason for optimism. Doughty took off for a touchdown run late in the first half to cut the deficit to 21-14.