BOWLING GREEN — Quarterback Bailey Zappe threw for 424 yards and seven touchdowns as Western Kentucky beat UT Martin, 59-21 in the team’s season opener on Thursday night.
The 59 points were the most scored by the Hilltoppers since a 60-6 victory at Marshall on Nov. 26, 2016; a span of 52 games.
Although the result was convincing, things did not start out fast for the Hilltoppers. After winning the coin toss and deferring to the second half, the Skyhawks took the opening kickoff and scored a two-yard touchdown to take an early 7-0 lead on a 10-play, 75-yard drive. On the ensuing WKU possession, Zappe threw an interception on his second pass of the night.
After the teams traded a few punts, the Hilltoppers struck as Zappe hit Daewood Davis for a 73-yard catch-and-run to knot the score at 7-7 at the 4:09 mark of the first quarter.
After that, it was all WKU with three more Zappe touchdowns on the next three drives — to Mitchell Tinsley for 10 yards, Jerreth Sterns for 22 yards and Malachi Corley for eight yards — pushed the Hilltoppers run to 28 unanswered points and a 28-7 lead. UT Martin did score on a 27-yard pass play with 10 seconds left in the second quarter for a 28-14 halftime score.
By that time, Zappe had already made a statement in his WKU debut. With 264 pass yards and four touchdowns through the air in 30 minutes, the quarterback had already surpassed the Hilltoppers’ 2020 single-game highs.
As the second half started, Zappe and WKU started just where they left off. After Beanie Bishop returned the opening kickoff of the third quarter 45 yards, Zappe hit Sterns again for a seven-yard score to push the lead back to three touchdowns. The Hilltoppers would go on to score on their next three possessions as well — unanswered — to take a 52-14 lead; a 30-yard field goal by Brayden Narveson was sandwiched in-between Joshua Simon touchdowns of 45 and six yards.
UT Martin did add a nine-yard rushing score with 7:22 remaining in the game, but WKU answered right back with a 54-yard touchdown pass from backup quarterback Carson Baker to Craig Burt Jr. to reach the final of 59-21.
WKU’s next game is Sept. 11 at Army.
Matt Tyson can be reached at 270-505-1425 or firstname.lastname@example.org.