WKU Football: Hilltoppers down FIU 20-14 for first win of season

MIAMI (AP) — Gaej Walker ran for a touchdown, Steven Duncan passed for another and the Western Kentucky defense made a big goal-line stand as the Hilltoppers defeated Florida International 20-14 in a Conference USA opener on Saturday.

“It’s a huge win for our program tonight, we talked about it all week – responding to adversity,” said WKU Head Coach Tyson Helton, who won his first game as a head coach. “Can’t be more proud of our football team, especially on defense. Drive after drive they responded and came through, so that was great to see. The whole team battled, all three phases they battled hard. Obviously, it’s not perfect, there’s a lot we have to clean up, but winning brings motivation and it brings confidence. That was a big win for us tonight. Now, it’s one win, and we have to build on it. But it was a good win for us tonight”

Late in the fourth quarter with WKU leading 20-14, FIU had 2nd-and-goal from the 2-yard line. WKU defensive back Dionte Ruffin hit Panthers quarterback Kaylan Wiggins in the backfield, forcing a fumble. Wiggins recovered the ball at the 16 but was attended to on the field after the play and was removed from the game. James Morgan, who had started the game, then threw incomplete on third and fourth downs. Western Kentucky took over and was able to run out the clock after gaining one first down.

“It was very passionate, seeing those guys (defense) hold up two or three times in unfortunate situations,” said redshirt senior wide receiver Lucky Jackson. “I mean it’s the first win of the season and everybody is ready for it. This is a momentum builder going forward, so this is a great win for us.”

Duncan threw 8 yards to Jahcour Pearson for a touchdown to open the scoring. FIU tied it later in the first quarter when Richard Dames scored on an 80-yard return after interception of a Duncan pass. Walker, who gained 100 yards on 27 carries, ran 2 yards for a touchdown and WKU led 14-7 at halftime.

The Hilltoppers allowed just 14 first downs, 217 yards and one offensive touchdown, a 15-yard run by Napoleon Maxwell in the third quarter that made the score 17-14 in favor of Western Kentucky. Cory Munson added his second field goal of the game, a 44-yarder early in the fourth quarter.

Duncan completed 19 of 33 passes for 241 yards with the one touchdown and two interceptions. Morgan was 3 of 11 for 25 yards; Wiggins 2 of 6 for 41 yards.

“1-0 in conference is all that we focus on,” said junior safety Devon Key. “Just 1-0, every week. Just going on and winning a conference game.”