It was an epic back-and-forth battle to kick off the weeknight #MACtion slate, but only one team could emerge the victor, and on this Tuesday night in the Midwest, it was the Eastern Michigan Eagles (6-3, 3-2 MAC) who would find victory over the Toledo Rockets (4-5, 2-3 MAC) by a final score of 52-49 at the Glass Bowl.
Toledo, the hosting side, did not waste any time getting things rolling.
After taking the opening kickoff and starting at their own 25, the Rockets needed only five plays to open the scoring. After Toledo had driven deep into EMU territory, RB Bryant Koback capped off the drive with a 22 yard TD run. The Rockets had a 7-0 lead, and barely 90 seconds had run off the clock.
The Eagles responded emphatically, as QB Ben Bryant led the Eagles on an eight play, 75 yard scoring drive of their own. Bryant was five-of-seven for 67 yards on the drive, and found Tanner Knue for an 18-yard TD to knot the score at seven with 10:53 remaining in the first quarter.
The Rockets would not be outdone. On the third play of their ensuing drive, facing third-and-two at their own 33 yard line, Koback went 67 yards for his second TD of the first quarter, and just like that the Rockets were back in front. It was 14-7 Toledo, and we hadn’t even played five minutes of football. It was shaping up to be a long night for both defenses.
The Toledo defense proved to be the first to make a stand, as the Eagles picked up one first down on their next drive but could not sustain it. The Eagles were forced to punt from midfield after failing to pick up a third and eight, and the Rockets would regain possession at their own 20-yard line. The Eagles defense also forced a punt after one Toledo first down, and then the Rockets defense forced another punt. It appeared that both defenses were finding their footing.
However, after Toledo forced that punt, Devin Maddox muffed the ensuing punt and EMU recovered at the Toledo 13-yard line. Three plays later, Hassan Beydoun found the end zone on an end-around, though it did have to be reviewed after he was marked short of the goal line on the field. After review, the call was overturned, and we were even once again at 14.
The Rockets went 45 yards on the ensuing drive, but their offense stalled at the EMU 30 after Dequan Finn failed to connect with WR Danzel McKinley-Lewis on third-and-10. Thomas Cluckey missed the ensuing field goal, and we remained tied at 14.
At this point, the Rockets defense began to look like the unit that shut down the high powered Western Michigan offense in their last contest. After the missed field goal, the EMU offense could only muster 13 yards before having to punt again.
Just when you thought the offenses had fallen asleep, the Rockets responded with another big play. On the first play of Toledo’s next drive, Finn found Matt Landers over the middle and Landers took it 80 yards for the score, and all of a sudden the Rockets were back in front 21-14. It was only Landers’ third catch in a Toledo uniform, after having transferred from Georgia this past offseason.
Starting from their own 38, the Eagles offense was once again quick to respond. After moving across midfield on the back of the run game, the Eagles stalled out at the Toledo 16-yard line. Chad Ryland hit the 34-yard field goal to get Eastern back within four, and it was 21-17 Toledo with just over ten minutes to go in the first half.
After the EMU defense forced a punt, the Eagles offense went back to work. Starting at their own ten yard line, Eastern Michigan was not deterred, as Ben Bryant completed four of his five pass attempts on the drive. Once the Eagles were deep inside Toledo territory, Samson Evans capped the drive with a two yard TD run to give EMU their first lead at 24-21.
That lead would prove to be short lived, as Jacquez Stuart took the ensuing kickoff 97 yards to give the lead back to the Rockets. Just like that, it was 28-24 Toledo with just under four minutes to go in the first half. This would prove to be the half time tally, though not without some intrigue. Toledo had the ball on the EMU 40-yard line as the first half clock was winding down. Dequan Finn found DeMeer Blakumslee in the end zone as time expired, but replay determined that the clock struck zero before the Rockets got the snap off.
As the score would indicate, there was not a lot of defense played in the first half of this one. The Eagles managed 275 total yards and were led by Ben Bryant’s 212 passing yards. That is a heck of an output for one half of football, but the Rockets offense actually outdid them. Toledo entered the half with 379 total yards and 12.1 yards per rush. At this point, we were on pace for over 100 points.
The offenses picked up right where they left off in the second half. Eastern got the ball first and wasted no time regaining the lead, as on the fourth play of the drive Ben Bryant found Beydoun for their second TD connection of the day, this one a 64-yard strike.
After the EMU offense gave the Eagles the 31-28 lead, the defense got a rare stop as Russell Vaden IV stepped in front of a Dequan Finn pass and gave the Eagles the ball at the Toledo ten yard line. The Eagles advanced the ball down to the Toledo one-yard line and faced a fourth and goal. Ben Bryant tried to break the plane on the QB sneak, but was called short on the field. The call stood upon review, and the Rockets had a huge defensive stand to keep the score 31-28.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, their offense could not build upon the momentum, and after picking up one first down Toledo was forced to punt. The poor punt left Eastern Michigan with the ball at the Toledo 43-yard line, and it didn’t take the Eagles long to capitalize. After three Ben Bryant completions moved EMU to the Toledo two-yard line, Samson Evans found the end zone for the second time on the evening, and the Eagles had themselves a 38-28 lead.
It was at this point where the wheels started to fall off for Toledo. On the second play of the Rockets ensuing drive, Finn was stripped by EMU DL Jose Ramirez, and the Eagles recovered to regain possession in the Toledo red zone. Two plays later, Bryant found Dylan Drummond on a fade route, and the Eagles found themselves up 45-28 with 4:23 to go in the third quarter. At this point, the Eagles had outgained the Rockets 145-5 in the quarter, and it seemed as if the game was getting away from them.
The Rockets ensuing possession encountered a somber delay when Eastern Michigan freshman DB Kempton Shine got injured while making a tackle. After a lengthy delay, Shine was carted off and the game was able to resume, giving thumbs up to the crowd as he was leaving the field. (Our thoughts and prayers are with Kempton and his family, and hopefully he makes a full recovery.)
After the injury delay, the Rockets offense seemed to regain their rhythm somewhat. Finn found Matt Landers for their second TD connection of the evening, this time a 26-yard strike. Finn found Koback on a shovel pass to convert the two point conversion, and the Rockets found themselves down 45-36 with under a minute left in the third quarter.
The Toledo defense held up on the next drive and forced an Eastern Michigan punt, after the touchback, the Rockets started their next drive at their own 20 yard line. It felt like EMU had left the door open for the Rockets to get back into the game, but the Toledo offense could not take advantage and was forced to punt after a three and out. Bailey Flint’s punt went only ten yards, and the Eagles took over possession at the Rockets 32 yard line.
On the first play of the ensuing EMU drive, RB Juwon Hamilton continued the Eagles’ fantastic offensive output, going 32 yards to pay dirt and giving the Eagles a 52-36 lead with just over ten minutes to play.
Toledo did not go down without a fight, and Dequan Finn found Jerjuan Newton for a five yard TD pass to cap a nine play, 73 yard drive. The Rockets’ two point attempt was unsuccessful, and the Eagles led 52-42 with 7:48 to go.
After an EMU punt, the Rockets offense once again marched right down the field. This time, the Toledo offense went 73 yards in ten plays and Micah Kelly’s 10-yard TD run with 2:14 to go cut the EMU lead to three at 52-49. The Rockets ensuing onsides kick was very close to being successful, but the Eagles did ultimately recover.
With 2:12 left in the game, Ben Bryant and the Eagles offense took the field with the hopes of running out the clock— despite Toledo having two of them at the start of the drive. it went for naught, however, and the Eagles faced fourth and two at the Toledo 20 with 40 seconds to go. The Rockets defense proved up to the task, and Toledo had the ball and a chance to tie the game with 35 seconds left in the game. Two completions got the Rockets to midfield, but it proved to be too little too late.
After an incomplete pass forced four seconds to run off the clock, and with just three seconds and the field remaining, Toledo attempted a hook and ladder lateral play, and it nearly worked, with hook recipient Devin Maddox forcing three missed tackles before getting downed at the EMU 20-yard line. The Eagles had officially gotten their first victory at the Glass Bowl since 1999.
The story of this game was the Eastern Michigan offense against the Toledo defense. The EMU offense has been playing well, but this Rockets defense was coming off of a dominating performance against Western Michigan two weeks ago. The Eagles offense won the match up, carving up the Toledo defense for 490 total yards, 360 pass yards, and 52 points. All three of those represent season highs, and this was without question the Rockets worst defensive performance of the season.
Eastern QB Ben Bryant once again proved he is one of the best signal callers in the MAC, finishing the night 29-of-41 for 354 yards and three TD’s. Two of those scores went to Hassan Beydoun, who finished the night with 12 catches and 197 yards to go along with those two TD’s.
On the other side of the ball, Toledo QB Dequan Finn had easily his best game passing the ball in his short Rockets career. The redshirt freshman completed 30-of-45 passes for 461 yards and three TD’s. Georgia transfer WR Matt Landers had a breakout performance, giving the Rockets 150 yards and two scores on his five catches. RB Bryant Koback also had a productive night, finishing with 180 yards and two TD’s on only 15 carries.
For Toledo, this game followed a script that has become all too common under Jason Candle. In a game where the Rockets had more talent, turnovers and general inconsistencies doomed Toledo. Entering this match up, these are two teams that still harbored aspirations of winning the West division. For Toledo, those dreams can now be put to bed. Eastern Michigan, on the other hand, now find themselves 3-2 in the MAC and bowl eligible for the fourth time in the last five seasons. Chris Creighton continues to work wonders in Ypsilanti.
Both teams return to action next week in the second rendition of mid-week MACtion. Eastern Michigan will host Ohio next Tuesday, Nov. 9, at a yet to be determined time in Ypsilanti. Toledo will contest the annual Battle of I-75 next Wednesday at Bowling Green. Kick time has yet to be released for the game at Doyt Perry Stadium.