Bulldogs dodge blowout, take Hilltoppers down to the wire

GREAT START:  After the game’s second play, Louisiana Tech’s Cedric Woods celebrated his interception that led to the Bulldogs’ quick lead Thursday night. (Photo courtesy Louisiana Tech Athletics)

Journal Sports

RUSTON — Down by as much as 28 points, Louisiana Tech made a furious rally in the second half but fell short in a 35-28 loss to Conference USA preseason favorite Western Kentucky Thursday night in front of an ESPN national TV audience and loyal Bulldogs fans at Joe Aillet Stadium.

WKU (4-2, 2-0 CUSA) dominated the first half, outscoring Tech by 35-7 which included 35 unanswered points. The Bulldogs (3-4, 2-1 CUSA) shut out the potent offense of the Hilltoppers in the second half and chipped away offensively.

“I told our players at the end of the game for as bad as our first half was it was probably one of the worst halves of football that we have ever been a part of,” said Tech coach Sonny Cumbie. “I was so proud of how we finished and responded in the second half. To hold an offense like that to zero points in the second half and score 21.”

After scoring two touchdowns in the third quarter and another in the fourth, the Bulldogs had the ball with less than two minutes to go with a chance to drive down to tie or win the game. But Jack Turner was picked off ending Tech’s hopes of a dramatic comeback.

The ‘Dogs grabbed the momentum early, with Cedric Woods intercepting WKU QB Austin Reed on the second play of the game. Tyre Shelton turned that turnover into points with a 25-yard touchdown run up the middle.

It was all WKU the rest of the half, scoring on five straight offensive possessions. Three were Reed finding Malachi Corley for receiving touchdowns (70 yards, 48 yards, and 29 yards). The others were a 56-yard touchdown up the gut by Markese Stepp for 56 yards and a run punched in from the 1 by Davion Ervin-Poindexter.

The Hilltoppers never scored again. Meanwhile, the Bulldogs were creeping back into the game, starting with a 19-yard touchdown pass from Turner to Kyle Maxwell on fourth down. After the defense got a fourth down stop, Turner made it 35-21 with a 1-yard rushing TD with 3:13 remaining in the third quarter.

Tech had a chance to draw closer but failed on fourth down inside WKU’s 10-yard line.

The Bulldogs tightened it to 35-28 by going six plays over 47 yards with Shelton scoring from one yard out with 3:09 still to play.

The Hilltoppers thought they had finally picked up a first down (they only had two the entire second half), but instant replay ruled that Reed’s knee hit the ground prior to reaching the first-down marker. WKU was set to go for it on 4th-and-1, but a false start forced them to punt the ball back to the Bulldogs.

With two minutes remaining, Turner connected with Smoke Harris for an 11th time (Harris had a team-high 117 receiving yards), but the next pass was intercepted to seal it for WKU.

Turner finished 21-of-41 for 259 passing yards and one touchdown to go along with one rushing touchdown. Shelton notched his third straight 100-yard rushing game with 118 yards and two scores.