Western Kentucky wins First Responder Bowl 23-20 on FG

Sports

Western Kentucky place kicker Cory Munson (46) and holder John Haggerty (47) watch the game winning kick go through the uprights in the final seconds of the NCAA First Responder Bowl college football game against Western Michigan in Dallas, Monday, Dec. 30, 2019. Western Kentucky won the game 23-20. (AP Photo/Roger Steinman)

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DALLAS (AP) — Western Kentucky freshman kicker Cory Munson ran onto the field, then off and then back on. All of that before kicking a career-long 52-yard field goal with no time left after a rules review moved him five yards closer to the goal posts.

And Munson, who’d sliced a 29-yarder wide right on the final play of the first half, closed the game with the kick that gave the Hilltoppers a 23-20 victory over Western Michigan in the First Responder Bowl on Monday.

“I was just breathing and saying to myself: ‘You got this. Don’t worry about the last kick. You got this one. Just stay calm,’ and I just swung through it,” Munson said. “Next thing I knew, it was up there.”

The Hilltoppers (9-4) drove 36 yards in 27 seconds before Munson kicked his third field goal in four tries. The game appeared headed to overtime when Ty Storey’s desperation heave was knocked down by the Broncos. But the Broncos were hit with a five-yard defensive substitution penalty and Munson was awarded an untimed down after a video review determined that Western Michigan had 12 players on the field as it switched between its field-goal unit and regular defense.

“We knew we could make the kick when we saw they had 12 men on the field and might get penalized,” first-year Western Kentucky coach Tyson Helton said. “I wanted our true freshman Cory Munson to get a chance to kick it, and he did. It was a great kick.”

Munson had tied the score at 20 on a 31-yarder with 1:36 to play. He also kicked a 26-yarder.

Thiago Kapps’ 20-yard field goal with 4:58 to play gave Western Michigan (7-6) a 20-17 lead.

“When they have their Hail Mary team and then the kickoff team and then the Hail Mary team out there, you have to stand over the ball and give us time to change,” Western Michigan coach Tim Lester said, “and it didn’t happen.”

Kapps’ field goal, his second of the game, capped a 62-yard drive that took 5:35 after Western Kentucky had tied the score on a 15-yard touchdown pass from Storey to Lucky Jackson with 10:40 to go. Jackson had 17 catches for 148 yards and was named the game’s most valuable player.

Western Michigan’s other touchdowns came on a 6-yard pass from Jon Wassink to DaShon Bussell midway through the third quarter and an 88-yard interception return by Kareem Ali in the first half’s closing minutes.

Storey, a graduate transfer from Arkansas, threw a 17-yard pass to Jahcour Pearson in the second quarter for the Hilltoppers’ other touchdown.

THE TAKEAWAY

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers will lose only two defensive starters from a unit that went into the bowl season ranked 21st in FBS scoring defense. With Storey leaving, Steven Duncan figures to return to No. 1 after starting this season’s first three games as a junior before injuring his left foot and missing the rest of the year.

Western Michigan: The Broncos will lose five starters each on offense and defense, including their three-year starter at quarterback (Wassink) and the Mid-American Conference players of the year on offense (RB LeVante Bellamy) and defense (LB Treshaun Hayward).

PASSED ON FIELD GOAL

Western Michigan could have attempted a go-ahead field goal of about 47 yards with 31 seconds left but instead went for it on fourth-and-3 at the Western Kentucky 30. Wassink’s pass into the end zone intended for Giovanni Ricci was broken up by Ta’Corian Darden.

Lester said he passed on a field goal try because the kick would have been into the wind. Kapps’ long this season was 45 yards.

VIVA HILLTOPPER

Lucky Jackson shares the name of Elvis Presley’s lead character in “Viva Las Vegas.” The senior now also owns the school record for catches in a game, became the fourth Western Kentucky player to have 1,000 receiving yards in a season and moved into second place in career catches with 209, behind Taywan Taylor’s 253.

UP NEXT

Western Kentucky: The Hilltoppers, who will open at home against Chattanooga on Sept. 5, will again play two Power Five programs (Louisville again and Indiana) next season. They play both defending Conference USA division winners on the road: Florida Atlantic and UAB.

Western Michigan: Next season the Broncos will return to Notre Dame, where they most recently played in 2010. Western Michigan will also welcome a Power Five team to Kalamazoo, Syracuse, a week after visiting South Bend.

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