The two preseason favorites to win the MAC West division in 2020 faced off on Saturday afternoon to conclude the season, but it was ultimatley an exercise in pride, as the Toledo Rockets (4-2) narrowly edged out the Central Michigan Chippewas (3-3) by a final score of 24-23.
The win, which further extended Toledo’s incredible streak of home wins against Central dating back to 2008, was earned in the late goings for the homestanding Rockets. Facing third-and-22 from the CMU 28-yard line, Carter Bradley rolled back, cocked his arm, and found a fading Jerjuan Newton in the left side of the endzone, with Newton maintaining sideline balance to haul in what turned out to be the game-winning play with 1:33 remaining.
It was redemption for Bradley, who had totalled four turnovers on the day, and ultimately broke a 16-point unanswered CMU run to take the lead back in a game they spent most of the second half trailing in.
CMU would have one last go at trying to set up a field goal to win the game, but QB Ty Brock was strip sacked three plays into the comeback effort, with the ball popping out forward and falling into the waiting hands of Jamal Hines to seal their fates.
The scoring account started with CMU finding the endzone in style, as WR Kalil Pimpleton took a passing snap at Wildcat QB, finding RB Kobe Lewis for an 18-yard touchdown to put the Chips up 7-0 at the 11:15 mark of the first quarter.
Toledo answered back with a scoring drive of their own, with Bryant Koback hauling in a pass from Bradley from 18 yards out to tie the game at the 6:25 mark of the first quarter, with the Rockets eventually adding a field goal from Thomas Cluckley to push the margin to 10-7 in favor of Toledo.
After an exchange of punts, Marshall Meeder kicked a short field goal to close the gap to a respectable 10-10 tie with 10:37 to go in the first half.
It was a bit of a rock fight after the field goal drive, as both teams exchanged immediate three-and-outs. Bradley threw the first of his three interceptions, this one to Richard Bowens III to end another Toledo drive after a three-play effort. CMU went three-and-out on the ensuing possession, only for Bradley to once again cough up the ball on a badly-thrown ball, this one tipping off the hands of Dishon McNary and into the body of Willie Reid two plays into the next drive.
With their luck turned around yet again, CMU mustered a three-play, 7-yard effort which ended with a Pimpleton pass straight at the feet of Hunter Buczkowski. Toledo took possession at their own 11, and Carter Bradley took advantage, gashing the CMU secondary for 71 yards and a touchdown on 4-of-4 passing, finding Isaiah Winstead just before the end of the half to go up 17-10.
The Chippewas came out with their hair on fire, forcing a Toledo three-and-out and scoring on a one-play, 68-yard touchdown run by Kobe Lewis to bring the game back to 17-all. Marshall Meeder added a field goal to push the lead to 20-17 at the 5:49 mark of the third quarter, and a runaway CMU victory seemed all but assured when Dishon McNary played center field on Bradley’s third interception of the night.
But once again, the Toledo defense stood tall and CMU had to settle for a field goal to go up 23-17 as the third quarter wound down.
Much like in the third quarter, CMU once again found an opportunity to jump ahead by forcing a sack fumble on Bradley, with Dishon McNary and George Douglas combining to create the defense’s fourth forced turnover of the night. Ultimatley, CMU couldn’t produce points off the fumble, punting at their own 48 after yet another stalled drive.
That set the stage for what would ultimately be the game-winning drive for the Rockets, who concluded their 11-play, 83 yard drive over a nearly five-minute period with the highlight reel play from Bradley to Newton.
It was a stellar display by the Rockets defense to keep the game as close as it was, considering the offense’s struggles to hold onto possession, as the Rockets allowed only 15 first downs, 23 points and 29 minutes of possession even with the four additional drives awarded via turnover. The Chippewas were held to 3-of-15 on third-down conversions as well, with five of their first seven drives (and seven drives overall) going three-and-out.
It was also a testament to the Rockets on offense that they were able to get down the field and finish the job despite CMU’s defense consistently interrupting the backlfield. On the day, CMU collected six sacks and 12 tackles-for-loss against the Toledo offensive line, to go along with four pass break-ups, three interceptions and two forced fumbles. Toledo totalled 395 yards on offense, converted 8-of-17 third-down conversions, held on to the ball for 30 minutes and picked up 25 first downs.
The regular season for both teams has ended, with both teams left to consider their postseason options.
- Ty Brock: 9-of-19, 105 yards, rushing fumble; seven carries, 26 yards; 34-yard reception
- Kalil Pimpleton: 3-of-5 passing, 64 yards, passing touchdown; two carries, four yards; three receptions fro 36 yards
- Lew Nichols III: 10 carries, 101 yards, rushing touchdown
- Kobe Lewis: 18 carries, 58 yards; three receptions, 26 yards, receiving touchdown
- Troy Brown: 14 total tackles, four tackles-for-loss, two sacks
- George Douglas: eight total tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one sack, one fumble
- Troy Hairston II.: seven total tackles, three tackles-for-loss, two sacks
- Dishon McNary/Willie Reid/Richard Bowens III: one interception each
- Marshall Meeder: 3/3 field goals (23, 52, 47); 2/2 XP
- Luke Elzinga: nine punts, 372 yards, 41.3 net yards average, long of 53
- Carter Bradley: 18-of-33, 265 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions
- Bryant Koback: 24 carries, 123 yards; five receptions, 44 yards, receiving touchdown
- Jerjuan Newton: three receptions, 68 yards, receiving touchdown
- Isaiah Winstead: three receptions, 40 yards, receiving touchdown
- Dyontae Johnson: 10 total tackles, .5 tackles-for-loss
- Desjuan Johnson: eight total tackles, 2.5 tackles-for-loss
- Terrance Taylor: three total tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one sack, forced fumble
- Tycen Anderson: three total tackles, one tackle-for-loss, one sack, pass break-up
- Thomas Cluckey: 1/1 field goal (24), 3/3 XP
- Bailey Flint: seven punts, 263 yards, 37.6 net yards average, long of 53