Rockets hold on to win at Wyoming
With the game hanging in the balance, the Rockets were forced to rely on something that wasn’t exactly demonstrated in a clinic-like fashion Saturday on either side — defense.
Leading 34-31, Toledo was forced to punt with 2:11 remaining, but came up with a defensive stop to hold on and win by a field goal to grab their first victory of 2012.
“I saw a bunch of Toledo Rockets in the second half stand up and rise to the occasion,” said UT head coach Matt Campbell. “We got a really good football team. We got a bunch of football games left to play, but it’s a step in the right direction.”
Toledo (1-1) and Wyoming combined for over 1,000 yards of total offense at War Memorial Stadium.
The Cowboys (0-2) were forced to turn to junior quarterback Colby Kirkegaard on the final possession after starter Brett Smith was taken off the field on a stretcher on their previous series.
Kirkegaard and the offense faced a critical 4th and 4 from their own 44. Running back D.J. May took the handoff, broke one tackle, but could not escape the grasp of UT senior linebacker Robert Bell at the 47, a yard shy of the marker.
Bell’s big play sealed the deal for the Rockets.
Toledo got off to a slow start and found themselves trailing 14-3 at the end of the first quarter.
Missed tackles — something that plagued them throughout last week’s game at Arizona —resulted in big plays on Wyoming’s first possession which was capped off by a 38-yard pass from Smith to wide out Dominic Rufran.
Wyoming was without receiver Robert Herron, who was sidelined with a leg injury. He caught five passes last week against No. 15 Texas for 173 yards and two scores.
Toledo moved the ball well on the next series, only to see kicker Jeremiah Detmer misfire from just 29 yards.
The Rockets responded with a much stronger second quarter. Quarterback Terrance Owens led UT on a seven-play, 75-yard drive to pull within four. Owens threw a 35-yard pass to junior Bernard Reedy to get the offense going.
Owens — who played from start to finish — completed 25-of-41 passes for 300 yards and four touchdowns, two of them to Reedy. He also added 74 more yards on the ground, making a serious case to be UT’s full-time starter.
Senior Austin Dantin had played in each of the last 27 games he was healthy for.
“We have great faith in Austin Dantin,” Campbell said. “Today was a situation where Terrance Owens had a great week of practice, we got into a rhythm early on and T.O. was in a great rhythm. It was really important to continue to ride the hot hand.”
Owens tossed his second touchdown of the day with 6:14 to play in the first half when he found running back Cassius McDowell for a 13-yard score.
Wyoming added a pair of field goals in the final three minutes to take a 20-17 halftime lead.
Toledo’s offense was still firing on all cylinders to begin the second half as Owens led his team to the end zone after starting the drive from their own 15. He again found Reedy from 35 yards out to put the Rockets on top 24-20.
Reedy hauled in six catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns to lead all receivers in each category.
“I thought we made some great adjustments at halftime that really gave us a chance to win the football game in the second half,” Campbell said. “I thought we tackled much better. Offensively, we executed much better in critical situations.”
Wyoming was driving late in the third quarter when junior tackle Elijah Jones came up with his first career interception at the Toledo 22 and rumbled for 16 yards on the return.
Jones replaced starting defensive tackle Danny Farr who went down with what appeared to be a knee injury. The extent of the injury is not know, but he had to be helped off the field and did not return.
“Next man up, that’s what we’re about here,” Campbell said.
The Rockets forced another turnover in their end of the field, their third of the game, when Wyoming freshman running back Shaun Wick was stripped by UT’s Byron Best. He also recovered the fumble at the Toledo 48.
UT has six takeaways in their first eight quarters.
The Cowboys refused to go down without a fight as the backup Kirkegaard threw a touchdown pass and converted on a two-point try to make it a 34-31 game with just under six minutes to play.
After Toledo’s last defensive stand, Owens dropped to a knee and ran the clock out.
Toledo was outgained 526 to 504. They have surrendered 1,150 yards of offense and have allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 50-of-74 passes for 726 yards.
Along with Owens and Reedy, the UT offense was led by junior running back David Fluellen, who ran the ball 22 times for a career-best 109 yards.
“David really come on strong,” Campbell said. “Our ability to run the ball in the second half was really huge. I was really proud of that offensive line. Two weeks in a row versus a really good, strong defensive line they played really good.”
Toledo will make their Glass Bowl debut under the lights next Saturday, Sept. 15 as they take on archrival Bowling Green at 7 p.m.
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