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Western Kentucky University scored on the game’s first two possessions and never looked back in a 44-23 victory over the University of South Alabama in the 22nd annual R+L Carriers New Orleans Bowl Wednesday night at the Caesars Superdome.

The Hilltoppers (9-5) rolled up 677 yards of total offense, including a New Orleans Bowl record 522 passing yards. Quarterback Austin Reed, the game’s Most Valuable Player, set four New Orleans Bowl records in completing 36 of 55 passes for 497 yards and four touchdowns.

Western Kentucky gained 434 first-half yards in building a 31-3 halftime lead.

Reed’s 44-yard touchdown pass to Dalvin Smith and a 27-yard scoring toss to Joey Beljan staked the Tops to a quick 14-0 lead with 8:46 left in the first quarter.

Smith, who had a career-high 145 yards receiving, showed off his arm with a 27-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Hall early in the second quarter.

The teams exchanged field goals before WKU drove 75 yards in the final 98 seconds of the half, scoring on an untimed down to end the half as Reed tossed a 1-yard shovel pass to Malachi Corley.

South Alabama quarterback Connor Bradley passed for three second-half touchdowns to try to keep pace. Bradley completed 36 of 53 passes for 360 yards.

Each team completed 37 passes on the night, and the 74 total completions tied an NCAA bowl record originally set in 2017 by Wake Forest and Texas A&M in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte.

Both schools were making their New Orleans Bowl debuts.

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