Much like many of the Toppers’ games this season, a battle between Western and Arkansas State wasn’t decided until the final whistle blew.
“You talk about frustrating and a game of inches,” Head Coach David Elson said. “Our guys played with passion and a ton of energy. We had our opportunities and just seemed to be snake-bitten.”
Elson credited the Red Wolves’ defense in stepping up the intensity in the second half, when the Topper offense scored only three points.
“I just think that their defensive line is very good,” he said. “They’ve got some good players up front. I think they’re the No. 2 defense in the league, and they showed that tonight and really just did a great job.”
Arkansas State coach Steve Roberts said he saw the tide begin to turn after halftime.
“I think the momentum started swinging about midway through the third quarter when (Western) got a field goal to put them up 17,” Roberts said. “After that point, I thought the defense really set the tone to get the momentum going in our direction.”
Senior receiver Jake Gaebler on Thursday’s loss:
“Tough one. Definitely emotional, especially emotional for our seniors. Thought we had one there for the majority of the game and then let it slip away, and to have it end like that — especially in such a difficult season — that one hurts. It’s tough.”
Senior linebacker Taurean Smith on the team’s attitude after an 0-12 season:
“We fight. That’s the most important part about this football team. They never give up — keep pushing, just trying to get a win.”
Elson on redshirt freshman quarterback Kawaun Jake’s fourth-quarter turnovers:
“When you get pressure on the quarterback, everyone looks at the offensive line,” Elson said. “Well, it’s a lot of things. It could be the offensive line. It could be a back in protection. It could be that the receivers aren’t getting open, or it could be that the quarterback’s not reading the coverage properly or whatever it may be.”
Elson on the returning players:
“I told the rest of them — which there’s a lot of them, there’s only 13 seniors — so I told those young guys, I said, ‘Look, you’ve got a great example of leadership through adversity, and you’ve got a lot of great experience this year as football players through 12 games — and that’s going to do nothing but help you in the future.
“This stings, and it’s going to sting for a little bit, but it’s going to be time to turn that page here soon enough and start getting ready for next year.”
Elson on the seniors:
“They’ve got a lot to be proud of, and they’ve got a really, really strong bond. They all stood up last night and talked about the relationships that they’ve developed over the last four and five years that are going to go for a lifetime and they’re not going to forget them. That’s more important than anything else that we do in this profession.”
Smith on his two years with Elson:
“He is very passionate about WKU. This is his home, and he enforces on us that this is our home also, and he wants us to love the place, take care of it, win games for this place — for the university. Coach Elson, wherever he goes, he’s going to be passionate about wherever he is. That’s the thing about him. He’ll love the university wherever he goes.”
Elson’s thoughts as he looks back at his tenure at Western:
“Like I’ve said many many times over the years that I’ve been here, I can’t believe they pay me to do this. This has been 14 years — a blast — all good things must come to an end.”
The Toppers assumed their largest lead of the season Thursday night at 20-3. They also tacked on to the school’s all-time longest losing streak, now at 20 games.
Oh, and Jerry Onwu of Murfreesboro, Tenn. won the Corvette raffle Thursday night — another log on that fire.
Check back tomorrow (or today…these night games make for late ones) for a link to SportsCenter’s Top Plays. Senior running back Tyrell Hayden’s first-quarter touchdown entered Thursday’s list at No. 7.