It is never easy coming back from a 25-point deficit on the road in any sport. As the University of Toledo Rocket football team experienced that first hand against conference foe Eastern Michigan. Coming up one two-point conversion away from tying the game at 28.
Regular starter at quarterback for the Rockets, Mitchell Guadagni was under center once again after missing last week’s game against Bowling Green.
The contest started rather sluggishly for the Rockets, who were looking to beat Eastern Michigan for a 13th straight time. Eagles quarterback Mike Glass had a huge 48-yard run the opening drive, that aided a 7-0 start for Eastern.
For the Rockets, the offense could not muster any substantial drives, which led to more success for the Eagles. Glass continued to wreak havoc on the Rocket front, rushing for his second touchdown early in the first to give the Eagles a 14-0 lead.
Following a short drive and an even shorter punt for the Rockets, Eastern Michigan reaped the benefits of their great field position when Eagles running back Willie Parker took a hand-off 50 yards to the end zone to extend the Eastern lead to 21.
To stop the bleeding, the Rockets chewed up almost five minutes of clock in route to a 35-yard field goal by placekicker Jameson Vest, that got the Rockets on the board.
As the second quarter started, the Rocket defense was able to find a rhythm and piece together some stops. However, the Rockets offense was unable to materialize anything and on one particular instance the Rockets had the ball at the Eastern 16 yard line and with a fourth down and one yard looming, the Rockets handed the ball to running back Bryant Koback who was promptly stuffed, giving the ball back to the Eagles.
Eastern Michigan took full advantage and drove the ball 84 yards in 10 plays, and punched in another touchdown, this time coming from running back Shaq Vann from one yard out.
Down 28-3 at halftime, the Rockets could easily give up and start worrying about the next game, but they persevered.
A 32-yard Vest field goal were the only points scored by either team in the third quarter. Entering the fourth, the Rockets still trailed big, down 28-6.
At the 11-minute mark of the fourth quarter, the Rocket offense scored its first touchdown of the game, with the help of a short field, when Guadagni found wide receiver Cody Thompson from 18 yards out to cut the Eastern lead to 15, 28-13.
After a short Eagles drive and a subsequent punt, the Rockets seized their opportunity and orchestrated a second straight touchdown drive that spanned 80 yards, as it was all capped off by a one-yard touchdown run from running back Shakif Seymour.
Another defensive stop by the Rockets gave hope. Down one score, and with an offense who was hot, the feeling was uneasy for the Eagles once the Rockets got the ball back. However, a huge turnover forced by the Eagles defense, when Guadagni was intercepted on a third down, looked to have sealed the Rockets’ fate.
As the Eagles rejoiced, the game proved not to be over just yet. Eastern attempted to burn clock and did so until they ran into a fourth and one on its own 42-yard line. Eastern elected to go for it and ball carrier Jairus Grissom was stuffed, giving the Rockets the ball back with little time left, trailing 28-20.
Guadagni, who burnt the Eagles on the ground all afternoon found the end zone on a dramatic fourth down from 10 yards out to cut the Eagles’ lead to 28-26. This touchdown led to a do or die two-point conversion for the Rockets.
If converted, they would send the game into overtime and have a chance at winning. It was all for not, though, as a Guadagni pass was broken up in the end zone which all but lost the game for the Rockets in Ypsilanti.
For the game, Guadagni finished with 147 passing yards and 137 rushing yards and two total touchdowns. On defense, star linebacker Richard Olekanma collected a career-high 15 tackles in the loss.
“Hats off to Eastern Michigan for playing a really good football game and challenging us for 60 minutes,” head coach Jason Candle said after the game. “In a lot of cases today, Toledo beat Toledo.”
All things considered a worst-case scenario start, and a load of penalties plagued the Rockets from start to finish, as they fell to 3-3 on the season.
The Rockets continue their MAC action hosting MAC East leading Buffalo 7 p.m. Oct. 20 at the Glass Bowl.