Western Kentucky Tops Colonels 31-17

REPLAY: The Battle of the Bluegrass

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Western Kentucky withstood a second-half surge from its cross-state rivals and emerged with a season-opening 31-17 victory over Eastern Kentucky on Saturday at L.T. Smith Stadium in Bowling Green, KY.

Hilltoppers quarterback Mike White completed 20 of 31 passes for 264 yards and a touchdown. Western Kentucky running backs D'Andre Ferby and Marquez Trigg combined for 125 yards and three touchdowns, and head coach Mike Sanford's defense smothered Eastern Kentucky running back L.J. Smith, holding the Louisville transfer to just 25 yards on eight carries.

Western Kentucky jumped out to a 24-7 lead in the second quarter, and it appeared as though the route may be on for the hosts. Instead, Eastern Kentucky controlled possession for much of the second half and kept it relatively close. Still, the Hilltoppers' victory was never in doubt.

After a quiet first quarter, Ferby put the Tops on the board with a 2-yard plunge to cap an impressive 16-play, 89-yard drive.

One possession later, Lucky Jackson -- who enjoyed a monster night -- hauled in a 66-yard touchdown reception from White to make it a two-score game. Jackson would finish with 144 yards on five catches. 

With 1:43 to play in the first half, Ryan Nuss banged home a 44-yard field goal, and the Hilltoppers took a comfortable 17-0 lead into the break.

Eastern Kentucky was impressive out of the gate to begin the second half, marching 71 yards on six plays, capped by a 6-yard pitch and catch from Tim Boyle to Ryan Markush to cut the Hilltopper lead to 17-7.

Given a short field two possessions later, Western Kentucky responded with a 52-yard drive punctuated by another Ferby touchdown run -- this one from 5 yards out -- to push the lead back to 17.

Boyle and Markush weren't done however. With 2:12 to play in the third quarter, a drive that lasted over six minutes ended with another Boyle-to-Markush touchdown strike to trim the deficit back to 10 -- but the Colonels would never get closer.

The Hilltoppers would go on a killer 16-play, 58-yard march on the shoulders of Trigg that ate over seven minutes of clock and effectively placed the dagger into the hearts of Eastern Kentucky when Trigg plowed in on fourth and goal from the 1.

The Western Kentucky win was the first of Sanford's career and the school's 47th all-time versus rival Eastern Kentucky. The Hilltoppers hit the road next week to meet Big Ten foe Illinois in Champagne, IL.

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