Quarterback Kolton Browning completed 29-of-59 passes for a career-high 365 yards and two touchdowns in the game. Through three quarters though, Browning was 16-of-32 for 167 yards and ULM trailed by two touchdowns.
"We started making plays down the stretch like we knew we were capable of the whole game,” Browning said. “We can't have that surge at the end of the game. We have to have it for all four quarters.”
After staying alive with the pass, the comeback died in overtime as Browning tossed an interception on first and goal from the 3. Western Kentucky took advantage of the turnover by kicking a 24-yard field goal to escape with a 31-28 victory at Malone Stadium.
In the fourth quarter, Browning completed 12-of-25 passes for 186 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another. ULM converted five-of-six third down opportunities with 12 first downs.
“I wish we had that sense of urgency the whole game,” Berry said in his radio interview. “That’s something we’re going to discuss in the locker room. Obviously when we needed to make plays, we’ve got a group that’s going to play hard. They’re going to find a way to make plays and they love the crunch time. But the reality of it is we need to play with this sense of urgency all the time.”
Indeed, Browning directed scoring drives of 54, 94 and 77 yards in regulation’s last seven minutes, 18 seconds. His 7-yard touchdown pass to Anthony McCall and the ensuing PAT tied the game at 28 with six seconds remaining and forced the extra period.
WKU won the toss and gave ULM the ball first. After opening with an 11-yard run by Jyruss Edwards to the 11, Browing lost a yard on a run. On 2nd-and-11, he completed a 12-yard pass to Brent Leonard to set up first-and-goal from the 3. But Derrius Brooks picked off Browning’s next pass to give WKU its escape hatch.
“We always feel comfortable going into overtime, but one play can turn the whole game just like that,” Browning said. “This one hurts, but we have to move on from this and come looking for next week's game and prepare for them and win that week."
With leading rusher Centarius Donald out for the year with an injury, the running game only made cameo appearances. ULM ran 30 times for 91 yards, with Browning handling 15 runs for a net of 29 yards. Running backs Edwards and Mitch Bailey combined for 12 rushes for 29 yards. Bailey scored on a 5-yard run in the first quarter and then was forgotten.
Browning’s attempts were the third most in school, his completions were the sixth most in school history, and his passing yards were the 18th most in school history.
Colby Harper had a career day with eight catches for 110 yards and Leonard added six catches for 80 yards. Leonard moved into a tie for 10th on the ULM single-season receptions list with 54.
ULM was just 7-of-18 on third down conversions and scored on three of five red zone trips. The Warhawks were 2-of-12 on third down tries through three quarters.
“We were very, very poor on third down conversions, poor tackling, poor execution on offense,” Berry said. “Those are things we work on every week in practice. It’s a shame it comes down to this where you lose those kinds of opportunities.”
Wait until next year: ULM defensive coordinator Troy Reffett sounded distraught for the players in his radio interview.
“It tears me up,” Reffett said. “I’ve got my championships at other schools and I want one for these kids. This is what bothers me and hurts me so much -- to see their pain and their frustration and their tears in the locker room that another season is gonna go by without them achieving their goals.”
Reffett said as a coach, he wants players to experience championships and bowl games.
“These kids have never done that,” Reffett said. “I’ve got to believe they’ll continue to come out and work to get better and use the end of this season to build into next season. That’s what is so painful right now, to see how much your kids hurt.”
Berry offered similar sentiments.
"Some of our goals that we set at the start of the season probably aren't attainable at this point in time so this is this (the rest of the season) is really going to be a measure of our football team,” Berry said. “While those goals have significance, I told them that the most significant thing is that opportunity for them to play together for the next five weeks. Those are the things they are going to cherish for the rest of their lives because they believe in each other and they are going to play hard for each other."
Horrifying kicking game: ULM’s special teams unit continues to be a liability.
After scoring to go ahead 21-20 with one minute left in the fourth quarter, the Warhawks gave up a 79 kickoff return as John Evans brought the ball back to the ULM 9. WKU scored three plays later to lead 28-21 and ULM needed a quick game-tying drive to force OT.
In another mishap, after scoring to pull within 20-14 in the fourth quarter and facing the choice of kicking deep or attempting an onsides kick, Manton instead booted the ball out of bounds and gave the Hilltoppers the ball at their own 40. ULM’s defense held for a punt after WKU drove to the Warhawks’ 32.
Also, ULM place-kicker Justin Manton missed field goals from 38 (blocked) and 30 yards. Punters Conner Fryoux and Aaron Munoz combined for five punts for an average of 28.6.
“The kicking game was atrocious and it obviously cost us tonight,” Berry said.
WKU had its own woes in the kicking game, including a blocked PAT by Ken Dorsey. A missed field goal from 31 yards and a fumble on a punt return recovered by Jordan Landry in the fourth-quarter helped spark ULM’s rally.
“I guess we wanted to make it interesting,” WKU coach Willie Taggart said. “I know we were up 20-7 and I told the guys on the sideline ‘Just remember last year. The same thing happened last year’" And then we botched the punt and it gave them life. All of the momentum went to their side and they started believing again. I feel like if we didn't botch that punt they would've gave in.
Getting defensive: ULM’s defense held WKU to 283 total yards and 19 first downs. Star running back Bobby Rainey rushed for 104 yards on 30 attempts but had to work for it. He averaged 3.5 yards per carry.
Linebacker Jason Edwards led the unit with 13 tackles. Defensive end Ken Dorsey made two sacks, three tackles for losses and was responsible for 43 negative yards.
Quote to note: “There were a lot of people that counted us out, and still do, but this group has great heart. And this group is going to be around for a while so you might as well get used to it.” – ULM’s Berry.
Up next: ULM (2-6, 1-3) travels to Louisiana-Lafayette next week. Kickoff is scheduled for 2:30 p.m.
Running back Alonzo Harris ran for 182 yards as ULL (7-2, 5-1) beat Middle Tennessee 45-20 on Saturday in Murfreesboro, Tenn.
Tail feathers: Browning was sacked six times, pressured with six quarterback hurries and took another round of big hits during the game. … Darius Prelow's interception in the first quarter was his team-leading fourth of the season. Prelow was starting his 32nd straight game. …Bailey scored his third offensive touchdown. … Browning passed Stan Humphries for sixth place in career total offense. He also moved into seventh place in career touchdown passes…. Harper was the third different receiver to top 100 yards for ULM this season. .. ULM fell to 5-2 all-time in overtime games. … Once the Sun Belt whipping post, WKU has now won four straight under Taggart. WKU is now 4-4, 4-1 in the Sun Belt.