BOWLING GREEN, Ky. (AP) — Reggie Whatley's 96-yard kick return touchdown in the fourth quarter lifted Middle Tennessee to a 34-29 win over Western Kentucky on Thursday night.
With the win, the Blue Raiders (6-3, 4-1 Sun Belt) are now in sole possession of second place in the Sun Belt, trailing first-place Louisiana-Monroe by a half-game.
Whatley's kick return came with 6:03 left in the game just after Western Kentucky (6-3, 3-2) had tied the game at 27 with a field goal. He caught the ball at his own four-yard line on the right sideline and ran left while the MTSU kick return team walled off the Toppers' kick coverage.
"I knew they were trying to pin me down in the right corner so I knew the cutback would be there, I just had to trust it," Whatley said. "I cut back and it was there."
Whatley's kick return was the second big special teams play of the fourth quarter to go MTSU's way.
Earlier in the quarter, with the game tied at 24, WKU's Antonio Andrews fumbled a punt return deep in his own territory.
The Blue Raiders converted a field goal on that drive to go up 27-24.
"Coach stresses special teams every day," Whatley said. "It's the biggest part of the game and we knew if we won the kicking phase that we'd win the game."
Down 34-27, the Hilltoppers drove toward the end zone in the closing stages, but the Blue Raiders' Kenneth Gilstrap picked off a Kawaun Jakes pass deep in MTSU territory with two minutes left to end the rally.
The game ended on a safety, as MTSU quarterback Logan Kilgore ran out of bounds in the end zone on a 4th and 9 at the end of the game, sealing the win.
"To me, this is the greatest win I've ever been a part of," MTSU offensive lineman Josh Walker said. "It's Western Kentucky, our record, their record. plain and simple."
Freshman Jordan Parker rushed for 149 yards and a touchdown for the Blue Raiders, who became bowl eligible for the first time since 2010.