By Carey Phillips
Parker McKinney completed 20 of 28 passes for 238 yards Saturday leading Eastern Kentucky to a 31-28 season-opening non-conference football victory over Western Carolina before 9,647 fans at E.J. Whitmire Stadium/Bob Waters Field.
Da’Joun Hewitt scored three touchdowns and netted 78 yards in 22 carries for the Colonels.
Mo Edwards caught six passes for 103 yards.
Rogan Wells started at quarterback for the Catamounts and completed 24 of 44 passes for 275 yards.
T.J. Jones led Western’s ground attack with 115 yards in 17 attempts.
Raphael Williams had eight receptions for 122 yards.
WCU had a chance to tie the game on the final play, but Paxton Robertson missed a 56-yard field goal.
The Cats reached the red zone on their first two possessions but had to settle for field goals on each occasion. Richard McCollum connected from 26 yards with 11:43 to play in the first quarter and 34 yards at the 9:13 mark for a 6-0 lead.
The first kick was set up by Wells’ 24-yard pass to Williams, and Jones had a 46-yard run leading to the second field goal.
EKU drove 75 yards in 10 plays for the game’s first touchdown. McKinney completed passes of 14 yards to Jaden Smith and 19 yards to Matt Wilcox. Hewitt scored on a 3-yard run, and Patrick Nations kicked the first of his four extra points giving the Colonels a 7-6 edge with 4:56 on the clock.
Daquan Patton’s 28-yard punt return set up Western’s first TD. The 52-yard march took eight plays, capped by an 18-yard pass from Wells to Jones. McCollum’s PAT put the Cats up 13-7 with 6:42 to play in the half.
WCU drove to the 25 late in the half before Roy Baker intercepted Wells’ pass and had a 78-yard return to the 7. Hewitt scored from a yard out four plays later with 19 seconds to go allowing EKU to lead 14-13 at halftime.
The Colonels’ first drive of the second half ended when Andreas Keaton intercepted McKinney’s pass at the Western 23, but the Cats were forced to punt.
EKU needed just five plays to drive 57 yards. The highlight was a 31-yard pass from McKinney to Edwards. The pair hooked up again on a 9-yard TD pass for a 21-13 advantage with 7:20 to play in the third period.
A penalty on the kickoff backed WCU up to its 8, but the team responded with a 92-yard scoring march in nine plays. Wells scrambled for 38 yards to get out of the hole, and Jones had a 20-yard run. A 13-yard pass from Wells to Raekwon Heath was followed by Jones’ 2-yard TD run. McCollum’s extra point cut the gap to 21-20 with 4:17 remaining in the third stanza.
McKinney completed a 23-yard pass to Ethan Bednarczyk on the first play after the kickoff and found Edwards for 24 yards. After a first-and-goal at the 3, a personal foul penalty moved the ball back to the 18. Hewitt scored on the next play, and the Colonels led 28-20 with 2:20 to go in the third quarter.
Jaden Woods picked off Wells’ pass and had a 19-yard return to midfield. Nations’ 21-yard field goal extended the margin to 31-20 with 11:09 left in the game.
After an exchange of punts, the Cats marched 79 yards in 13 plays. Mikai Stanley picked up four yards on a fake punt to convert a fourth-and-3. Benjamin Kenny had a 13-yard run and caught a 15-yard pass from Wells. The drive was aided by a pair of pass interference penalties. Wells scored from a yard out and completed a conversion pass to C.J. Williams narrowing the deficit to 31-28 with 3:18 on the clock.
The Cats forced a punt and got the ball back at their 30 with just 15 seconds left. Wells completed passes of 19 and 12 yards to Williams to the EKU 39, but Robertson’s 56-yard kick was no good as time expired.
Kareem Taylor was WCU’s top tackler with 10.
Matthew Jackson led the Colonels with 11 stops.
23 First Downs 31
37-123 Rushes-Yds. 38-226
20-28-1 Passing 24-44-2
238 Passing Yds. 275
6-39.7 Punts-Avg. 3-37.3
1-0 Fumbles-Lost 2-0
9-82 Penalties-Yds. 11-63
EKU 7 7 14 3 31
WCU 6 7 7 8 28