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By ASHLEY SCOBY
Several minutes after a stunning win over the University of Kentucky, pandemonium struck the visitor’s tunnel and locker room at Commonwealth Stadium.
An assistant coach for WKU is on the phone with someone – maybe a wife or a sister – shouting, “How ya like that, girl??” Players are sprinting down the tunnel, tearing their jerseys and helmets off. “That’s why we play the game!” is bellowed over and over again. Sometimes it’s not even words that are audible: just guttural screams echoing across the cement.
It’s the typical scene of a big upset in college football. But Saturday night, it was the scene of a lot more than just an upset.
Willie Taggart and WKU football have arrived. The Hilltoppers played Alabama closer than what was expected – they even sacked the Crimson Tide quarterback six times, which is no slight feat. Taggart has been on the list of up-and-coming head coaches for a while, but perhaps never more so than now.
Taggart instilled in his players the belief that they could win against an SEC opponent, and they bought in. The Toppers ran that two-point conversion in overtime because they knew they were going to make it. The game had already been won by WKU; it was just a matter of whether or not the score would hold in their favor.
Talk has been rampant about the future of Joker Phillips as head coach, how Kentucky can bounce back from this loss and what the Wildcats did wrong. But this loss isn’t just about the negatives of Kentucky – it’s about the positives of WKU, and maybe even how UK can learn from them.
WKU’s positives were most obvious during Taggart’s post-game news conference. He gave the obvious quotes about how crucial this win was for the WKU football program, but he also kept saying “we play to win” in response to why he had his team go for two instead of the extra point. Imagine that: a Sun Belt team playing to win, rather than to keep up, with an SEC football team.
The same was true for the Western players: Kawaun Jakes, when asked if he had any doubt of if he would make it to the end zone after catching Antonio Andrews’ trick pass, simply said, “We play to win.” The reporter re-phrased his question, asking if Jakes was afraid the defenders would get to him before crossing the plane.
“I play to win,” he said again, this time with a laugh.
It’s a basic quote, but one that conveys the message that the WKU football program is on the rise. Is that any excuse for what happened last night to UK? Absolutely not. But the Wildcats should remember that the Hilltoppers have proven you can make something out of nothing. And while the UK program may not be considered “nothing” right now, it’s certainly at a low point. The Cats can rise from this, just as WKU rose from non-Division-I school to beating an SEC football team.
That’s why you play the game, after all.