Lucky Jackson and Quin Jernighan had a conversation Friday night in the hotel before Saturday’s regular-season finale at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

The two – both redshirt seniors – had combined to play in over 90 games, catch over 290 passes for over 3,500 yards and 17 touchdowns at Western Kentucky, but had never caught a touchdown pass in the same game.

“We are roommates on the road and at the hotel when we travel for home games,” Jackson said. “It was just kind of one of those things where I just kind of looked at him when we were just hanging out in the room and I was just like, ‘Man, we’ve got to touch that paint together. We’ve been here five years together and that’s something we ain’t got to do yet. Let’s make it happen.’ ”

The two succeeded in their final attempt in Bowling Green. Jackson caught a 64-yard touchdown pass in the third quarter and Jernighan caught a 3-yard touchdown pass in the fourth – both coming from graduate transfer quarterback Ty Storey – to help lead the Hilltoppers to a 31-26 come-from-behind victory over Middle Tennessee on a rainy senior day at Houchens-Smith Stadium.

Jackson’s 64-yard strike gave WKU (8-4) a 17-13 lead with 13:40 to play in the third, but the Blue Raiders (4-8) retook the lead with 12:43 to play in the fourth. On the first play after getting the ball back by stopping a Middle Tennessee fake punt attempt midway through the fourth, Jernighan went up to catch a pass in a one-on-one situation for a 33-yard gain to put the Hilltoppers at the Middle Tennessee 3-yard line, then made the touchdown reception on the next play to put WKU up for good.

With time winding down, first-year head coach Tyson Helton was looking for his experienced players, like Jernighan and Jackson, to step up and they did.

“As coaches, that’s kind of where your mind goes to when things aren’t going well. ‘All right, how do I get the ball to Lucky? How do I get the ball to Quin? How do I get the ball to J.P. (Jahcour Pearson)?’ “ Helton said. “We had the ball across midfield there right on first down after a big stop and were able to hit the shot to Quin – it was a huge play – then he turns around and makes a touchdown catch back to back, and Lucky’s touchdown was huge again. You look for your seniors, your playmakers, when your back’s against the wall and those guys really stepped up for us.”

Jackson led WKU with 110 yards on eight receptions and Jernighan had 76 yards on four receptions. Storey, who said the wet conditions were tougher on his receivers than himself and credited them for making plays, completed 23-of-30 passes for 294 yards. Storey, who took over as starter in place of Steven Duncan in the team’s fourth game and added a 27-yard touchdown run in the second quarter Saturday, didn’t know that two of those completions would help create a special moment between two friends.

“That’s awesome,” Storey said. “(Jernighan) came up to me after the game and I didn’t realize Lucky and Quin – they’re two big buds and they’ve never had a touchdown in the same game, so that was pretty cool to be able to experience that and throw them those.”

Jackson, Jernighan and Storey were among 13 players honored before the 69th meeting with Middle Tennessee. The group also includes defensive back Ta’Corian Darden, linebacker Eli Brown, wide receiver Marcus Floyd, defensive lineman Jaylon George, offensive lineman Parker Howell, defensive back Canon Jackson, defensive lineman Carson Jordan, running back Marcelis Logan, long snapper Jared Nash, offensive lineman Miles Pate and kicker/punter Alex Rinella.

It’s a group that’s helped turn the program around in Helton’s first year. WKU followed an 11-3 season in 2016 with a 6-7 2017 season and a 3-9 2018 campaign. Even this year looked like it might be a wash with a 35-28 loss to FCS Central Arkansas in the opener at Houchens-Smith Stadium. A victory over FIU and a loss to Louisville left WKU at 1-2 through three games, but four straight wins followed. The Hilltoppers suffered losses to Marshall and Florida Atlantic, but responded with three straight wins to close the regular season, including a 45-19 blowout of Arkansas, an SEC team where Storey previously played.

“Everybody on this roster – including the staff – everybody is on the same page,” Jackson said of the difference this year. “We have that same vision and common goal at the end, so I feel like that’s a big thing when everyone is heading in the right direction.”

While it was the last game for the 13 seniors at Houchens-Smith Stadium, it’s not the last they’ll suit up for. WKU now awaits word on where the team will go as it seeks the program’s first bowl victory since a 51-31 win over Memphis in the 2016 Boca Raton Bowl.{&end}

– Follow sports reporter Jared MacDonald on Twitter @JMacDonaldSport or visit bgdailynews.com.

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