WKU Stuns Western Michigan on Last-Second FG to Win 2019 First Responder Bowl

Tim Daniels@TimDanielsBRFeatured ColumnistDecember 30, 2019

Western Kentucky wide receiver Lucky Jackson (11) is tackled by Western Michigan cornerback Anton Curtis (3) after a reception during the first half of the NCAA First Responder Bowl college football game in Dallas, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)
Roger Steinman/Associated Press

The Western Kentucky Hilltoppers picked up their first bowl win since 2016 with a 23-20 victory Monday over the Western Michigan Broncos in the 2019 First Responder Bowl at Gerald J. Ford Stadium in University Park, Texas.

Kicker Cory Munson hit a 52-yard field goal as time expired to secure the win.

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WKU won three consecutive postseason games from 2014 through 2016. The Hilltoppers then lost the 2017 Cure Bowl to the Georgia State Panthers and missed out on bowl eligibility last year with a 3-9 record. First-year head coach Tyson Helton led an immediate resurgence as the team finishes 2019 at 9-4.

The Broncos haven't fared as well on the bowl stage as Monday's loss dropped their all-time record to 1-9 in postseason contests, including three consecutive losses since 2016. The latest defeat finalizes the team's record this year at 7-6.


Notable Game Stats

QB Ty Storey (WKU): 35-of-51 passing, 358 yards, 2 TD, 2 INT; 30 rushing yards

QB Jon Wassink (WMU): 19-of-36 passing, 193 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT; 26 rushing yards

RB Gaej Walker (WKU): 93 rushing yards

RB LeVante Bellamy (WMU): 60 rushing yards

WR Lucky Jackson (WKU): 148 receiving yards, TD

WR Jahcour Pearson (WKU): 32 receiving yards, TD

WR Skyy Moore (WMU): 68 receiving yards

WR DaShon Bussell (WMU): 51 receiving yards, TD

TE Joshua Simon (WKU): 105 receiving yards

LB Kyle Bailey (WKU): 11 tackles, INT

DB Kareem Ali (WMU): 88-yard INT return TD


Lucky Jackson Emerging as NFL Draft Sleeper

Jackson's production has steadily increased across his four years at WKU. After recording 26 receptions as a freshman, he tallied 39 as a sophomore and 51 as a junior. The wide receiver parlayed that into a senior season that featured 77 catches for 985 yards and three scores entering Monday's contest.

The Kentucky native added a game-high 17 grabs in the bowl game.

He's not the type of player who's likely to generate a ton of buzz during the pre-draft process. He doesn't possess eye-popping measurables (6'1'', 185 pounds) and his athleticism won't be able to match the class' top wideouts, a group led by Alabama's Jerry Jeudy and Oklahoma's CeeDee Lamb.

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Your @FRBowl MVP is Lucky Jackson.

Jackson is still an intriguing prospect because he's showcased the small-area quickness to make him a threat in any role, either in the slot or on the outside. He's also made major strides as a route runner over the past four years, which should make him a quick study at the NFL level in that regard.

He's the type of receiver who will likely be available in the draft's mid-to-late rounds and still be capable of immediately stepping in to win a team's No. 4 receiver role thanks to his versatility.

Jackson may be a long shot to ever develop into one of the NFL's best receivers, but he's got the tools to enjoy a long stay in the league as a depth target for high-powered passing attacks.


WMU Offense Sputters Ahead of Rebuild

The Broncos' old guard on offense was hoping for a storybook ending Monday. The senior group, led by quarterback Jon Wassink, running back LeVante Bellamy and tight end Giovanni Ricci, had a chance to finish their collegiate careers on a high note.

Those situations always create a bittersweet moment. It's a chance to honor an important set of players, but it also shed light on an impending rebuild of the unit.

WMU failed to get much going against the Hilltoppers, though. It finished the game with 307 total yards and 19 first downs.

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To recap: - Western Michigan QB falls over with 15 yards of grass in front of him on 3rd & 1 - WMU turns it over on downs - Western Kentucky Hail Mary falls incomplete - WMU penalized for 12 men on field - WKU hits game-winning 52-yard FG on untimed down FINAL WKU 23, WMU 20

The nation's 19th-ranked offense finally came alive on its final drive as it moved the ball from its own 15-yard line into scoring position in just over a minute. Head coach Tim Lester decided to go for it on fourth-down rather than have Thiago Kapps try a go-ahead 47-yard field goal, and it didn't pay off.

WKU used the field position to drive 36 yards in five plays to set the stage for Munson's heroics.

Ultimately, it wasn't a perfect performance from the departing seniors, but they still helped lay the groundwork for continued success at Western Michigan.