Hilltop stunned

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By Brandon Mattingly


All my Hilltoppers stand up. If you’re a Western Kentucky fan, alumnus or current student, you don’t need to be informed of what went down in Lexington this past Saturday. The Toppers went into Commonwealth Stadium and outplayed, outworked and outcoached what is supposed to be a superior program and came away with a stunning 32-31 win, their first ever over the Wildcats.

Anyone with WKU ties was paying attention. Even if they weren’t able to watch the game, they were fully aware of what was happening. I have to admit, even as a UK guy I knew Western had been waiting for this opportunity, and if they were ever going to knock off one of the top two teams in the state, this was the year to do it.

At first glance, it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal. Kentucky was projected by most pundits to finish last in the SEC East and there was no shortage of analysts jumping at the opportunity to predict WKU over UK as their upset of the week.

Let’s rewind a little further back though. Say, 2010? Western was in the middle of a school-record 26-game losing streak, including a winless 2009 campaign. Some guy named Willie Taggart was brought in to right the ship, but who was really expecting much? At least one guy was, Willie Taggart.

In just over two years, Taggart has taken WKU from bottom-feeder in the Sun Belt Conference to 9-2 in its last 11 games. Those two losses? Those came against LSU and Alabama while each was ranked No. 1 in the nation. The turnaround has been impressive, and even the manner in which they’re coming out on top is jaw-dropping.

The trick play that won the game in overtime on Saturday – a backward toss followed by a cross-field pass back to the quarterback for the game-winning two-point conversion – is exactly the kind of play that shows Taggart is a coach with the creativity to win at a high level. I’m just thinking out loud here, but I can think of a team in its conference’s cellar with a coach on the hot seat – ablaze may more accurately describe Joker Phillips’ seat right now – that could use just that mentality.

Unfortunately for any Cats fans hoping Taggart takes a permanent trip west of the Bluegrass Parkway, what the head ball coach in Bowling Green is doing in such a short amount of time may land him somewhere even bigger. One thing is certain. Western fans need to enjoy this turnaround for all it’s worth, because Taggart is going to be a coveted name by the end of next season, if not sooner.

There are two teams in the state that are dreaming of conference titles and bowl games this year and my Cats aren’t one of them.

Saturday was a landmark win for a program that’s done a complete 180 in the last couple of years, and for an up-and-coming coach that appears to have a very bright future. It feels like the little brother/sister who could never get the upper hand over their older siblings finally grew up and got over the hump. As the youngest of three brothers, I know WKU is riding a high following Saturday’s win, and I don’t like being on the other side of it one bit.

I wasn’t sure I’d see the day WKU finally knocked off UK, but here I sit, hoping it was a fluke, but knowing it wasn’t.