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Vanderbilt rallies to come from behind, defeat Western Kentucky 31-30 in OT

The Commodores stopped the Hilltoppers on a two-point conversion in overtime to clinch a key road win.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Western Kentucky Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

It took some time for the Vanderbilt offense to warm up, but an opportunistic defense kept the Commodores alive long enough to rally for a 31-30 road win at Western Kentucky.

Ralph Webb’s three-yard touchdown dive as time expired capped off the team’s biggest drive of the season and tied the game at 24-all. Kyle Shurmur stepped up big in overtime to deliver a key passing touchdown, but in the end it was a big defensive stand on a Hilltopper two-point conversion that sealed a key win for the Commodores.

Webb finished the game with 87 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Shurmur had his finest day as a college quarterback, passing for 279 yards, one touchdown, and one interception. However, the Vandy offense never would have gotten started if it weren’t for an opportunistic defense that held the home team at bay when they seemed their most dangerous.

Vanderbilt started slowly. Western Kentucky moved the ball efficiently on a 75-yard opening drive that put the Commodores in an early 7-0 hole. It looked like the visitors would get a defensive touchdown when Taurean Ferguson scooped up a sideways pass that hit the turf in the VU red zone and returned it 91 yards for six points, but the call was eventually overturned despite shaky replay evidence to suggest the ball was moving forward.

WKU moved the ball efficiently against a deficient Vandy defense, but the Commodores came up with a pair of big fumbles to halt the Hilltoppers’ momentum. The biggest came when Ferguson stripped Taywan Taylor at the VU 5 yard line, popping the ball perfectly into Tre Herndon’s hands to keep Western Kentucky from extending its lead early in the second quarter.

However, the Vandy offense couldn’t capitalize on these opportunities. The ‘Dores had five total yards in the first quarter; 18 from Ralph Webb and -13 from everyone else on the roster.

The Hilltoppers replaced Mike White at quarterback midway through the second quarter, and the move paid off immediate dividends. Tyler Ferguson found Nacarius Fant streaking up the left side of the field and hit him with a picture perfect pass to push the home team lead to 14-0 with 8:18 left in the half.

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Vanderbilt was able to shake off its lethargic start to mount a response, though WKU penalties helped. Shurmur found C.J. Duncan for a 31-yard gain on third-and-11. Nine plays (and two Hilltopper offsides flags) later, Webb skirted to the pylon on a third-and-goal run to pull the Commodores within seven points headed into halftime.

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The ‘Dores came out of the locker room recharged for the second half. They took their opening drive 75 yards in 10 plays before Webb dove into the end zone from two yards out to knot the game at 14-all. Shurmur completed a pair of passes for 25 yards on the trek, but it was Webb’s 38-yard jaunt up the middle that put WKU on its heels early in the quarter.

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Western Kentucky rallied by driving deep into VU territory, but Dare Odeyingbo swatted White’s 3rd-and-10 pass into the air, where Herndon dove underneath it to give the ‘Dores the ball at their own one yard line. However, the Hilltoppers held tough, forcing a three-and-out and then blocking a Sam Loy punt to get the ball back at the VU 16.

Vanderbilt held strong, forcing a key third-and-1 stop that forced a 25-yard field goal attempt that started wide right and stayed that way to keep this game tied at 14-14.

The ‘Dores took the ensuing drive to the WKU 34-yard line, but decided to punt on fourth-and-9 rather than attempt a field goal or go for it. Loy’s punt bounced through the end zone, giving VU a 14-yard net on the play.

Western Kentucky took advantage of Vandy’s timidity. The Hilltoppers drove 80 yards, aided by a questionable third-and-6 holding call on Tre Herndon, to take a 21-14 lead on Anthony Wales’ 20-yard touchdown run.

After a pair of punts, Shurmur hit Caleb Scott for a 66-yard gain through the air, but the ‘Dores couldn’t capitalize on a first-and-goal situation. Instead, they settled for a 22-yard Tommy Openshaw field goal to make it a 21-17 game.

WKU got the ball back with 5:29 to play, and Vanderbilt seemed ill prepared to handle the Hilltoppers’ run-heavy offense. Anthony Wales turned the Commodore defense into ground meat, ripping off 55 yards in three plays to push Western Kentucky deep into VU territory. While the drive stalled out in the red zone, Ryan Nuss’s 25-yard field goal was enough to push the home team lead to seven points.

But Vandy wasn’t done fighting. Shurmur led his offense down the field in an efficient two-minute drill that put the ball on the WKU 2 yard line with three seconds to play. With the end zone in sight, it could only mean one thing: time for Ralph Webb to shine.

Webb’s three-yard dive cross the goal line as time expired, and Openshaw’s extra point gave us free football in Bowling Green, KY.

Vanderbilt got the ball first and moved quickly, taking three plays to set up a first-and-goal situation from the WKU half-yard line. The next two plays resulted in -4 yards, but Shurmur stepped up in a big way on third-and-goal to fire a dart to Nathan Marcus to make it 31-24.

That put the onus on Western Kentucky, and the Hilltoppers delivered. WKU needed just two plays to find the end zone, but head coach Jeff Brohm decided he wanted to end the game rather than head to a second overtime. He drew up a pass play for White, but the QB’s pass was deflected at the line of scrimmage before being intercepted, sealing a Vanderbilt win and improving the Commodores to 2-2 on the season.