Toledo seniors prepare for final home game against Akron
After a pair of losses – each by just a touchdown – the University of Toledo is probably looking for a way to release two weeks’ worth of frustration.
Luckily for them, the 1-10 Akron Zips are on the schedule as the Rockets close out the regular season at the Glass Bowl and try to get back into the win column.
Toledo could be forced to win without the help of junior running back David Fluellen, who twisted an ankle in the second half against Northern Illinois.
His 1,460 rushing yards ranks fourth in the nation, but head coach Matt Campbell is confident in his reserves should they be needed.
“We’ve got great faith in Cassius McDowell,” he said. “David Pasquale can certainly run the football for us and do some great things. I feel confident in those two guys if David won’t be able to play.”
Toledo traveled to Dekalb, Ill. last week with a spot in the Mid-American Conference championship game on the line. They led 14-7 at the half, but saw the Huskies rattle off three straight touchdowns in the third quarter to come from behind and take the MAC West for the third consecutive year.
After being held to just over 150 yards in the first half, NIU torched the UT defense for 347 yards in the third quarter and did not face a single third down.
“What I know and love about this team is what I saw in the fourth quarter of the Northern Illinois game,” Campbell said. “[Our] backs were against the wall and our guys kept swinging, they kept fighting. I don’t even know if there has to be some great motivational speech to get this team back because we’ve got 18 great [senior] leaders and our kids care and support each other.”
The Rockets will finish second to their newfound nemesis for the third straight season, falling short of their year-long goal of playing for the MAC title in Detroit.
“We came up a little bit short on a few things, but we’ve still been able to accomplish a lot of things as a senior class,” said senior linebacker Dan Molls. “We still have a few things that we can accomplish.”
Despite Akron’s dismal record and a conference title now out of the picture, there are still a few key things riding on this matchup for the Rockets.
Some think that UT is a guarantee for the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl regardless, but finishing the season with a victory would give them nine wins and an opportunity to possibly play in a better bowl.
“Nothing’s guaranteed, no [bowl] game is promised to us,” Molls said. “[But] winning the last game and going 9-3 is only going to better our chances of going to a better bowl game. We’re taking the approach that it’s a must-win game for us if we really want to go to a [good] game.”
Molls is one of 18 seniors who will taking the field at the Glass Bowl Tuesday night for the final time. Campbell has praised the leadership and character of those 18 players repeatedly this year.
“I couldn’t be more honored and proud of our senior class,” he said. “This class has truly changed the culture of Toledo football over the last four years. Where we’ve come from over these last four years, these seniors have had a major say in it.”
Senior Night festivities will begin prior to kickoff, a moment that Campbell may not be ready to experience just yet.
“It’s going to be a tough day for me,” he said. “I look around here and see Danny Molls and I see Jermaine Robinson, players who have had such a profound impact. Not just as players, but as people in our program - how to do things the right way, how to go to school, how to get a degree. These guys have changed the whole culture of what we came into here four years ago.”
This class has put together a 30-19 record, including a 19-4 conference mark in the last three seasons and is in line to receive their third straight bowl bid.
Kickoff for UT’s final regular season game of the year is set for 7 p.m. on ESPN2.
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