Toledo’s late comeback bid fell just short against San Diego State on Saturday, with the Rockets (2-2) falling to the Aztecs (2-2) by a final score of 17-14 at Snapdragon Stadium, with the last touchdown of a tense 60-minute gridiron session coming by way of a San Diego State rushing touchdown in the final moments.
Toledo trailed 10-0 entering the fourth quarter, but two late touchdowns from quarterback Dequan Finn (one through the air, one on the ground) gave the Rockets a late 14-10 lead. Despite having all of the momentum, the Rockets defense was unable to hold, as Aztecs running back Jordan Byrd found the end zone with less than a minute to play to give San Diego State the 17-14 victory.
This one started off slowly, with the first five possessions of the game ending in a punt. The Rockets were the first team to threaten to score, marching 54 yards in 11 plays near the end of the first quarter. After failing to convert a third down at the San Diego State 17 yard line, Thomas Cluckey missed a 36-yard field goal, thus squandering the first scoring opportunity of the game.
The Aztecs quickly took advantage of the Toledo error. Jordan Byrd ran 37 yards on the first play of the ensuing drive, bringing San Diego State near midfield. On the next play, Byrd finished what he started, running 43 yards off the right side to give the Aztecs a 7-0 lead. It would be the first of Byrd’s two touchdowns on the day.
The Rockets crossed midfield on each of their next two possessions, only to see both end in via turnover. The first turnover came via a Dequan Finn interception, his first of three on the afternoon. The second was especially discouraging. After forcing a San Diego State punt and taking over possession on their own eight yard line, the Rockets offense put together a magnificent drive. A steady dose of running backs Peny Boone and Jacquez Stewart brought the Rockets to the Aztecs 16-yard line. On the tenth play of the drive, Boone was hit in the backfield and fumbled, effectively ending the scoring threat. At the half, Toledo had entered the San Diego State red zone twice, and had zero points to show for it.
The second half started much as the first half ended, with Finn throwing his second interception of the game on only the third play of the third quarter. The quarter was the sloppiest of the game, with both teams trading punts and interceptions. The Aztecs ended the quarter by taking a 10-0 lead courtesy a 50-yard field goal from Jack Browning.
In the fourth quarter, the Rockets offense came alive.
Taking over at the San Diego State 27 with 13:00 to go in the game, Finn led Toledo on a 12-play, 73-yard drive. On a third-and-goal from the Aztecs 11, Finn found Jamal Turner in the end zone to cut the deficit to 10-7.
After the Rockets defense forced a three and out, the Toledo offense put together their best drive of the afternoon. Taking over at their own seven-yard line, Finn marched the Rockets 93 yards in only seven plays, capping the drive with a one yard touchdown run via a quarterback sneak. After not having a lead for the entire contest, the Rockets found themselves up 14-10 with less than three minutes to play.
Unfortunately for Toledo, the usually stout defense couldn’t hold.
San Diego State quarterback Braxton Burmeister went three-of-four on the ensuing drive, while also rushing for 46 yards on three attempts. The backbreaker came on a second-and-15 from the Toledo 16-yard line with under a minute to go. After scrambling, Burmeister ran 15 yards down to the Rockets one yard line, setting up a first and goal with only 41 seconds left. On the next play, Jordan Byrd found the end zone for the second time, giving the Aztecs the 17-14 lead.
Dequan Finn threw his third interception of the afternoon to seal the deal in what would be Toledo’s last possession, sending the Rockets back to the eastern time zone with their second loss of the season.
Turnovers and missed opportunities were the story of this game. As mentioned earlier, the Rockets entered the Aztecs red zone twice in the first half and came away empty both times. The normally efficient Finn finished 21-of-34 for 240 yards, one score, and three interceptions. Jacquez Stewart led the rushing attack with 14 carries for 54 yards, though the Rockets ground game was largely held in check throughout the afternoon. As a team, Toledo managed only 122 yards on 34 carries.
For the Aztecs, running back Jordan Byrd was the MVP, rushing for 115 yards and two scores on 16 carries. Overall, the Rockets defense played very well, holding the Aztecs to only 282 yards. Toledo won the yardage battle, 376-282, but the Rockets four turnovers proved to be the difference.
It was a frustrating afternoon for the Rockets, and one that resembled many similar losses over the past few years. Entering MAC play at 2-2 is not disastrous, but this was a game that was there for the taking, and entering conference play at 3-1 would have done wonders for team confidence.
Nonetheless, all of the Rockets goals are still ahead of them, and the path to Detroit begins next week as the conference portion of the schedule arrives. Toledo does not have the luxury of easing into conference play, hosting Central Michigan in a matchup between two squads that could win the west. Kickoff at the Glass Bowl is set for 3:30 EST.