White, Wales lead Western Kentucky over Memphis in Boca Raton Bowl

Hilltoppers send off interim coach Nick Holt with 51-31 win

Running back Anthony Wales plows through a crowd of Memphis defenders on his way to the end zone in Western Kentucky's 51-31 win in the Boca Raton Bowl.
Running back Anthony Wales plows through a crowd of Memphis defenders on his way to the end zone in Western Kentucky's 51-31 win in the Boca Raton Bowl. (Bryan Hursh)

BOCA RATON, Fla. – Western Kentucky quarterback Mike White threw three touchdowns and running back Anthony Wales scored three more as the Hilltoppers won their eighth straight game Tuesday night in a 51-31 victory against Memphis in the Boca Raton Bowl.

Wales was the offensive player of the game, amassing 253 yards on the ground and 84 yards through the air.

Interim head coach Nick Holt led the Hilltoppers (11-3) to victory after former coach Jeff Brohm left to take the Purdue job.

Western Kentucky named Notre Dame offensive coordinator Mike Sanford as the next head coach, but Holt said his coaching staff remained focused on preparing the team for the game at FAU Stadium.

"Our kids have played exactly how I thought they would play," Holt told reporters during a postgame news conference.

After three-and-outs for both teams on their opening possessions, Memphis (8-5) struck first. Junior quarterback Riley Ferguson connected with junior wide receiver Anthony Miller on a 10-yard pass to get to midfield. Two plays later, Ferguson found redshirt freshman running back Tony Pollard on a 45-yard touchdown strike to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead.

Western Kentucky answered the call on the next series with an eight-play, 75-yard drive that culminated with a 4-yard touchdown pass on third down from White to tight end and Wake Forest transfer Stevie Donatell that evened the score.

A 33-yard field goal by senior kicker Jake Elliott gave the Tigers a 10-7 lead with 5:38 remaining in the first quarter, but the Hilltoppers regained the lead after senior offensive lineman Forrest Lamp ran nine yards into the end zone on his first career carry, putting Western Kentucky ahead 14-10.

"The last time I scored a touchdown, probably in my back yard against my little brother," Lamp recalled after the game.

Memphis appeared poised to score again after converting on fourth-and-10 to keep the drive alive, but Elliott's 43-yard field-goal attempt bounced off the left upright.

White hooked up with senior receiver Nicholas Norris on a 37-yard touchdown pass to take a 21-10 lead in the second quarter, but Memphis found the end zone again when Ferguson connected with Miller on a 7-yard touchdown, trimming Western Kentucky's lead to 21-17.

Wales scored again on a 2-yard run to give the Hilltoppers a 28-17 halftime lead.

Western Kentucky didn't waste any time scoring after the break. White tossed a 41-yard touchdown to senior receiver Taywan Taylor, taking a 35-17 lead just 1:36 into the third quarter.

Memphis had opportunities, but the Tigers were hampered by three second-half fumbles that were recovered by Western Kentucky.

A bright spot for the Tigers was receiver Anthony Miller, who hauled in a career-high three touchdowns, including a 45-yard catch from Ferguson on fourth-and-12 in the fourth quarter.

White, who played his high school football in nearby Fort Lauderdale, finished 20-of-30 passing for 336 yards.

Western Kentucky linebacker Keith Brown was the defensive player of the game. He had eight tackles and an interception.

The Hilltoppers have scored 50 or more points in six of their last nine games. Western Kentucky hasn't scored fewer than 44 points since a 31-30 overtime loss to Vanderbilt in September.

Holt might not know what his future holds, but at least he knows his Christmas will be bright.

"I'm the luckiest man in the world," Holt said. "Been a great Christmas present."

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