BOWLING GREEN, Ky. — According to Vanderbilt coach Derek Mason, his team wasn’t exactly a finely turned machine on Saturday.
However, despite plenty of sputtering and missing, the Commodores rallied and escaped with a 31-30 victory at Western Kentucky, thanks to a failed 2-point conversion by the Hilltoppers at the end of the first overtime.
“Defensively, we leaked a lot of oil out there today, but we came up big when we needed to,” Mason said. “That was important.”
Kyle Shurmur’s 5-yard pass to Nathan Marcus on the first possession of overtime gave Vanderbilt (2-2) its first lead of the game, and Tommy Openshaw added the point after for the Commodores.
Western Kentucky (2-2) answered quickly, needing just two plays to find the end zone on Mike White’s 8-yard pass to Shaquille Johnson in overtime.
Hilltoppers coach Jeff Brohm elected to go for two points. White rolled to his right, but his pass was deflected into the air off Anthony Wales’ helmet and ruled incomplete, as Vanderbilt players rushed the field to celebrate the comeback victory.
Brohm said he thought his team had a chance to win it with the 2-point try.
“I thought we had a chance to win. I thought the play was decent. Mike maybe put a little too much heat on it. I’d have to see the film. But, it ricocheted off (Anthony Wales’) helmet, but it was a little hot coming out,” Brohm said of the final play.
Wales said it was a play he should have made, regardless of the velocity of the pass.
“It was a great play call, they bit on the outside. It was attempted to me. It was a little hot, but I should have caught it. I’m a playmaker and I put that play on me,” he said.
Vanderbilt’s offense, which had struggled for much of the game, put together two impressive fourth-quarter drives for 10 points, including going 75 yards in the final 1:02 of regulation in seven plays to tie the game at 24-24 and force overtime. A pass interference call in the end zone on Western Kentucky’s De’Andre Simmons against Vanderbilt’s Trent Shurfield gave the Commodores the ball at the Hilltopper 2 with three seconds to play in regulation. Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb, who had three rushing touchdowns in the game, leaped from just inside the 5 and landed just beyond the front edge of the end zone for the tying score.
“When we needed to establish some momentum, we did. The offense got it back and got rolling. The offense kept us alive,” Mason said.
The Hilltoppers built a 14-0 lead in the first half, getting a 4-yard run from Anthony Wales to cap the opening drive of the game. WKU added a second-quarter score when backup quarterback Tyler Ferguson hit Nacarius Fant on a 61-yard pass play.
Webb capped touchdown drives for Vanderbilt of 4 and 2 yards to tie the game briefly at 14-14.
Wales put the Hilltoppers back in front with a 20-yard touchdown and the teams traded fourth-quarter field goals before the Commodores game-tying drive.
WESTERN KENTUCKY: The Hilltoppers dominated the game on the stat sheet, putting up 501 yards of total offense. Running back Anthony Wales gained 157 yards on 24 carries and scored two touchdowns. The Hilltoppers also completed 24 of 40 passes for 291 yards. However, Western Kentucky was penalized 11 times for 88 yards and also had a pass intercepted and lost two fumbles. WKU was just 3 of 12 on third-down conversions in the game.
VANDERBILT: The Commodores haven’t exactly been known for their passing, entering the game with just 376 yards through the air in three previous games. But quarterback Kyle Shurmur starred in the fourth-quarter and the overtime period. Shurmur was just 10 of 17 for 124 yards and an interception through the first three quarters. But in the fourth quarter and overtime, he was 8 of 12 for 155 yards and a touchdown in overtime. Shurmur took the Commodores 75 yards in seven plays with 1:02 left and no timeouts to tie the game and force OT.
On the first series of the game, Western Kentucky drove downfield from its own 25 to the Vanderbilt 4, when a swing pass was batted and ruled a lateral. Vanderbilt’s Taurean Ferguson returned it 91 yards for a touchdown. Replay reversed the call, and the Hilltoppers scored on the next play when Anthony Wales got into the end zone from four yards out.
Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin sent out a premature tweet on the game that said “Congrats to @WKU football on a solid win over @VandyFootball…Off to another great start to the season…Well done! #WeAreKY.”
The tweet was quickly deleted.
Saturday’s game was the first time ever for a Southeastern Conference team to play at Western Kentucky and it turned out to be a historic event. The announced crowd of 23,674 set a new school record for attendance for Western Kentucky football.
Ralph Webb provided a big chunk of Vanderbilt’s offense, running 20 times for 95 of the Commodores’ 110 rushing yards in the game. That included a 38-yard run and all three of Vandebilt’s touchdowns in regulation. Webb reached the end zone from four yards out in the second quarter, from two yards away in the third quarter and again from two yards on the final play of regulation.
MAKING IT COUNT
Vanderbilt receiver Caleb Scott had just one catch in the game, but it was good for 66 yards and set up a fourth-quarter field goal for the Commodores. Scott’s catch allowed him to tie C.J. Duncan, who had five catches, as the Commodores’ leading receiver yardage-wise.
VANDERBILT: The Commodores return home and to SEC action as the Florida Gators visit on Oct. 1.
WESTERN KENTUCKY: The Hilltoppers are at home for the second consecutive week, hosting Houston Baptist on Oct. 1.