A clutch and timely interception by Robert Nelson provided the winning margin for ULM Saturday night in its 35-30 surge past Western Kentucky. Nelson's 55-yard touchdown return gave his Warhawks a 35-24 edge with 1:30 left in the game. The only turnover of the contest came as Western Kentucky was trying to recover after blowing a 24-7 lead. The Hilltoppers were out near midfield when Nelson snared the pass from quarterback Kawaun Jakes.
"I've been waiting for an interception the whole season," Nelson said in his postgame radio interview. "It comes slowly. It feels good to help my team win at the end of the game." Nelson's touchdown off an interception return was ULM's first since Greg James did it against Louisiana-Lafayette in 2008. In this case, ULM's defensive coaches had their man in the right place at the right time.
"We were in a blitz right there," ULM defensive coordinator Troy Reffett told Nick White on the radio postgame show. "The quarterback got a little pressure and Robert did a really great job playing his coverage and playing his man. "It was one of those situations where we were calling the route out on the sidelines. Based on the formation they were lined up in, they had a tendency to run a certain route. Honestly, he sat on the route and waited for them to throw the ball to him. It was a good play and an example of our kids starting to grow up and understand football."
The points off the pick-six loomed large as Western Kentucky would summon a final scoring march. The Hilltoppers needed just three plays -- and a ULM personal foul penalty -- to move 62 yards, finishing with a 13-yard touchdown pass from Jakes to Willie McNeal. Western Kentucky failed to convert the two-point conversion and ULM recovered the ensuing onsides kick to complete their incredible comeback.
"We never give up," Nelson said. "That's one thing we talked about going into this second half. If I don't give up on y'all, don't give up on me. We came out hard in the second half ready to play and ready to win the game." ULM won a week earlier in similar fashion with a fourth quarter comeback to beat Florida Atlantic 20-17. Cornerback Vincent Eddie came up with a fumble recovery that led to the winning points in that one.
"I love these guys," ULM coach Todd Berry said. "I've said it multiple times. Our heart is right. Now our minds aren't always right. We've got to play better than what we played tonight."
ULM (3-3, 2-1 in the Sun Belt) needed the 28-point fourth quarter to avoid becoming the first Western Kentucky victim since 2008. The Hilltoppers (0-6, 0-2) extended the longest losing streak in the nation to 26 games. "Western Kentucky had a great game plan for us," Berry said. "They've got some good players. They're going to win some games. They're playing hard. But in the same sense, we've got to play smarter."
Third and bad: ULM might not have needed so many fourth-quarter heroics with a better performance on third downs – both offensively and defensively. The Warhawks converted just three of 14 third down opportunities while Western Kentucky was 7 of 15 on third-down conversions. ULM was 3 of 5 on fourth-down conversions, but one of the failed attempts was costly. Trailing 17-7 late in the third quarter, the Warhawks gambled with a fake punt on fourth-and-9 at the ULM 31. Punter Aaron Munoz's pass to Tavarese Maye fell incomplete and the Hilltoppers scored four plays later to go up 24-7.
The running men: Redshirt freshman Jyruss Edwards got the starting nod over senior Frank Goodin at running back and made an impact. Named one of ULM's team captains for the game, Edwards scored twice and gained 60 yards on 12 attempts to lead ULM. His 33-yard touchdown run in the second quarter was ULM's first run of more than 20 yards this season. His second score from six yards out gave ULM its first lead at 28-24 Goodin gained 20 yards on eight carries but did pick up a pair of important first downs late and scored on a 2-yard run to cut the WKU lead to 24-21 in the fourth quarter. With his first TD of the year, Goodin moved into second place on ULM's career rushing list with 23 and sixth place on ULM's scoring list with 156 points.
Up next: ULM returns to the road again next week with a visit to Middle Tennessee (2-4, 1-1 in the Sun Belt). Georgia Tech whipped the Blue Raiders 42-13 on Saturday as Middle Tennessee quarterback Dwight Dasher threw four interceptions. Dasher scored both touchdowns for his team.
Tail feathers: With 209 yards at WKU, QB Kolton Browning has five straight games with more than 200 yards passing. His 1,284 passing yards through six games are the most for a ULM quarterback since Robert Cobb in 1993. He has a TD pass in five of ULM's six games. … Tim Taylor caught his first pass of the year and now 15 ULM players have receptions this season. … ULM's defense recorded a season-high five sacks. … WKU running back Bobby Rainey, who came in leading the Sun Belt in rushing, carried the ball a career-high 32 times for 169 yards and two touchdowns. … ULM was penalized 13 times for 98 yards. … Safety Darius Prelow made a team-leading nine tackles. … The Hilltoppers held a lead at halftime (17-7) for the first time in 2010, thanks to a 223-134 advantage in total yards in the first 30 minutes.