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Western Kentucky redshirt senior defensive back Devon Key runs off field with his teammates at halftime of Saturday’s win against MTSU at Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

While Tyson Helton said the week leading up to Saturday’s game at Middle Tennessee that the result – win or lose – wouldn’t make or break Western Kentucky’s season, there was no doubt the importance of a victory.

The Hilltoppers were winless in their first two games, but came away with a 20-17 victory at Johnny “Red” Floyd Stadium.

Now, the second-year head coach is hoping the Hilltoppers can carry momentum from the victory into preparations for Saturday’s homecoming game at Houchens-Smith Stadium against Marshall.

“Good win last week against Middle. The guys were really excited. It gives us momentum moving into conference play being 1-0,” Helton said Monday in his weekly Zoom conference with reporters. “Now we get to come home and play a big game against Marshall. I know our team will be really excited about that opportunity and we’re looking forward to it. It ought to be a great conference game again.”

WKU was coming off losses at Louisville and to Liberty in the first two weeks, but two weeks of preparation brought back the “juice” for Saturday’s game, where the Hilltopper defense played like it did in 2019 to carry the team to its first victory of 2020. Helton said after the game “it just reconfirmed what we were last season,” when Conference USA’s best scoring defense led the team to a 9-4 mark.

But regardless of records going into that game – WKU entered at 0-2 and Middle Tennessee at 0-3 – there was no doubt it would be a close game. The game – referred to as 100 Miles of Hate – is the oldest and most-played series among C-USA programs.

The Hilltoppers get another rival – a much newer one – Saturday in a game that has been dubbed the “Moonshine Throwdown.” Saturday marks the 12th meeting all time, including games the past six years.

The series renewal started with WKU’s 67-66 overtime win in 2014 and followed with two more Hilltopper wins, but Marshall has taken the last three meetings by a combined 13 points, including a 26-23 decision last season in Huntington, W.Va., where Justin Rohrwasser kicked a 53-yard field goal as time expired.

“Once you get your schedule set, you get your mind right for each week and what type of opponent you’re facing,” Helton said. “I think it’s a great opportunity with the point and time we are in the season, and coming off our first conference win, it gives us a little momentum.

“We get to play them at home in a big game. Last year we lost a tough one against them. They kicked a last-second field goal. It was a great game last year. A lot of things to build off of and I think everybody’s excited and looking forward to that opportunity to play a really good opponent in Marshall.”

While WKU is riding momentum from its win over Middle Tennessee, Marshall has been at a standstill for weeks. The Thundering Herd haven’t played since beating then-No. 23 Appalachian State 17-7 on Sept. 19. Marshall throttled Eastern Kentucky 59-0 on Sept. 5 in its first game.

Marshall moved to No. 25 in the Associated Press poll following the Appalachian State victory – the first time the program had been ranked since the 2014 season. The Thundering Herd’s scheduled game Oct. 3 versus Rice was postponed with the Owls’ delayed start to the season due to COVID-19. Marshall also had a Sept. 12 game versus East Caroline postponed

But with two games on film, Helton feels confident WKU will know what to expect when Marshall comes to Bowling Green.

“They do what they do,” Helton said. “They’re a very talented football team. I don’t think they have to change much. I say it every week – everybody has a wrinkle here and there that they do.

“We know what’s coming in here, what we’re going to face, and when you’re a good football team like Marshall, they don’t really care. They do what they do and they say, ‘Stop us. See if you can stop us.’ And I like that, to be honest with you.”

Kickoff is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. and will be broadcast on Stadium.{&end}

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

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