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Western Kentucky With a Huge Comeback

Western Kentucky With a Huge Comeback

A game that was a blowout much of the day turned into another Bowl season thriller. Old Dominion built up a seemingly insurmountable lead, only to see Western Kentucky with a huge comeback to win the initial Famous Toastery Bowl, 38-35 in overtime in Charlotte, NC. Since this was a one-year substitution for the Bahamas Bowl, it is also like the last of the annual Toastery Bowls.

WKU overcame a 28-point deficit to force it to overtime with under 30 seconds left in the game. A blocked Old Dominion field goal gave the Hilltoppers everything they needed to cement the comeback.

The Hilltoppers were playing without starting quarterback Austin Reed. He was on the sidelines with the team for the game. After the game, WKU head coach Tyson Helton indicated that it was a late-in-the-week decision for him not to play.

It’s not that the ODU offense was high-powered to get all those points. It didn’t need to be. The defense forced WKU into turnovers on the Hilltoppers’ first three possessions and turned each of them into points.

A Bad Start for WKU

The Monarchs opened the scoring on its first possession of the game. Quarterback Grant Wilson pulled the ball on an RPO play and ran up the middle for 79 yards to the Western Kentucky four-yard line. Two plays later he connected with Isaiah Page for a one-yard touchdown pass and the 7-0 lead.

Then came the Western Kentucky implosion. Quarterback Turner Helton fumbled the ball on third and four at his 24-yard line. LaMareon James picked it up and returned it seven yards to the WKU 17. Two plays later a five-yard run by Kadarius Calloway put Old Dominion up 14-0 just six minutes into the game.

The onslaught wasn’t over. On the very next drive…in fact just three plays later…Helton was intercepted by ODU’s Kris Caine. He returned it 30 yards for the pick-six and the 21-0 Monarchs lead, and we were still only halfway through the first quarter.

Helton was pulled at that point by Western Kentucky’s head coach, who also happens to be his uncle.

From Bad to Worse

It changed nothing in the short term. New quarterback Caden Veltkamp completed a three-yard pass to the ODU 23-yard line. But receiver Craig Burt, Jr. fumbled the ball, and it was recovered by the Monarchs. Wilson would eventually take in himself from 11 yards out for the 28-0 lead and we just minutes into the second quarter.

The game was over, and it was time just to have fun with the toast mascots, right? Yeah, not so much.

Veltkamp led WKU’s first scoring drive of the game. He went five for five passing on the drive that ended with a 14-yard pass to Dalvin Smith.

It stayed that way into halftime and while ODU had a substantial lead, the Monarchs’ offense was sluggish, mustering only 204 yards, despite the 28 points on the scoreboard. And Western Kentucky was not far behind with 169 yards despite having only 14 net yards rushing.

The trends continued in the second half, minus the WKU turnovers.

Oh, But Hang On…

On third and 11 from the ODU 18-yard line, Veltkamp dropped a short pass to Smtih across the middle. Smith reached up to grab it with one hand and tucked it, never using his off arm. He sprinted to the right side for an 18-yard touchdown and it was 28-14 Monarchs.

Wilson added another rushing touchdown, this one from 21 yards out to put the Old Dominion lead back to 21 points at 35-14 and seemingly out of reach, again, at the end of the third quarter.

But the lack of sustained drives by the ODU offense continued to haunt them in the fourth quarter.

Veltkamp engineered a seven-play, 75-yard drive that ended with a 37-yard touchdown pass to Elijah Young. The pass was caught at the Old Dominion 34 and Young broke several tackles on his way to the end zone. It was going to become a major theme late in the game.

On the very next play for ODU, Wilson threw deep, but the pass was picked off Anthony Johnson, Jr. at the WKU 38-yard line.

Old Dominion Can’t Keep Moving

Veltkamp needed nine plays to go 69 yards and get WKU within a touchdown. His 14-yard touchdown pass to Smith in the middle of the endzone gave the Hilltoppers back-to-back touchdowns and put WKU with seven points at 35-28.

After trading punts, Western Kentucky got the ball back at its own 36-yard line. On third and six Veltkamp completed his pass to Jimmy Holiday who broke several ODU arm tackles for a 30-yard gain. It included another 15 yards for one of the more bizarre penalties seen in a bowl game this year. The ODU offensive coordinator Kevin Decker was called for unsportsmanlike conduct when the official, backpedaling along the sideline, tripped over Decker, even though Decker was still in the coaches box.

Six more plays got the Hilltoppers to the ODU five-yard line. And then Veltkamp was sacked for a huge 10-yard loss. The Hilltoppers had the ball fourth and goal from the 15-yard line with the comeback on the line.

Hilltoppers Finish the Job

Veltkamp connected with K.D. Hutchinson at the two-yard line and the receiver fought his way into the end zone. The PAT tied the game with 19 seconds left and WKU had come all the way back from being down by 28 points.

In overtime, ODU had the first chance to put points on the board. But the drive stalled on the WKU six-yard line. Then on a night when they could not put WKU away, Ethan Sanchez’s 23-yard field goal attempt was blocked by Western Kentucky.

WKU did not come all the way back for nothing and it was not to be denied at this point. Lucas Carneiro hit the 29-yard field goal for the win and the toast tossing at midfield began.

After the game, Helton, (the coach), said even down 21 at the half, the locker room was like any other game. “I felt like we were gaining momentum, you know,” he said. “It was a normal locker room setting. We were making our corrections and our adjustments.” He said the key was getting points on that first possession of the second half. “From there we were rippin’ and runnin’.”



Western Kentucky With a Huge Comeback
Photo courtesy:  Jim Dedmon-USA TODAY Sports


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