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2023 MAC Football Week 13 Game Recap: Toledo Rockets 32, Central Michigan Chippewas 17

Toledo wins their 11th-straight game, taking down CMU on the road in their regular season finale.

James H. Jimenez

The Toledo Rockets (11-1, 8-0 MAC West), recently ranked #23 in the Associated Press polls, looked to make an impression on Friday afternoon, hoping to aid their case with the College Football Playoff committee after being left unranked in last week’s reveal.

The Rockets didn’t score a lot of style points on the road, but they’ll gladly take the result, killing the Central Michigan Chippewas’ (5-7, 3-5 MAC West) postseason hopes with a sound 32-17 victory.

The first quarter was defined by out-of-sync offenses and field position battles, with Toledo’s first drive an indication of the game’s odd nature. The Rockets were aggressive early, going for it on fourth down at CMU’s 39-yard line. The pass intended for Jerjuan Newton fell incomplete, and Central took possession from there.

CMU was ultimately unable to convert and were eventually forced to punt— but stopped Toledo on a quick three-and-out to get the ball back. The Chippewas drove down field on a series of decent runs, and had seemingly converted on a third-and-five pass to Chris Parker on a sideline-hugging possession catch to give the ball to CMU at the Toledo 30-yard line before Parker was called for illegal touching.

The loss of down forced a 54-yard field goal by Tristan Mattson, which had the distance, but missed wide left, keeping the score at 0-0 with 4:56 remaining in the first quarter.

The game devolved into a punting exhibition from there, with Toledo and Central combining for six punts to bridge the first and second quarters, with neither team collecting any more than 27 yards on any attempt down the field.

One side had to break through eventually, and that one side was Toledo, as the Rockets put down a 10-play, 70-yard drive lasting 4:24 of game clock to take the lead on a SportsCenter highlight-worthy 29-yard pass from Dequan Finn to Jaden Dottin, who snagged the ball with one arm and held the ball tight to his body on a tumbling possession along the boundary of the endzone.

The defense responded with force, quickly picking up a three-and-out with 10 lost yards, allowing the offense another shot at scoring with 49 seconds remaining in the first half.

Luke Pawlak would secure the two-score halftime lead with a 38-yard field goal to put the Rockets up 10-0 at the halftime break.

Central came out with one of their best offensive drives of the day to start up the third quarter, with Marion Lukes collecting 44 yards on a reception on the second play of the series before gaining 10 more yards on three consecutive runs, setting CMU up inside the Toledo redzone at the seven-yard line.

Diaster would strike, however, on the next play, as Marion Lukes would get hit hard at the line of scrimmage and fumble the ball. Toledo safety Zachary Ford would falll atop the ball, killing the Chippewas drive.

Toledo would take the ball 93 yards for the ensuing touchdown, with Peny Boone crossing the threshold from two yards out to put the Rockets up 17-0.

Central came out on their next offensive drive trying to grind out the clock and get maximum points, but found themselves stalled out on third-and-10 on a four-yard pass to Thomas Pannunzio. The Chips would settle for a field goal from Tristan Mattson to finally get on the scoreboard at 17-3 with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter.

The final frame got off to a hot start, with Toledo’s Jacquez Stewart rushing for an 11-yard touchdown and Central’s Jase Bauer scoring on a seven-yard scramble (with a pass to Decorion Temple on a two-point attempt) on back-to-back possessions to put the score at 24-11 with 8:26 remaining. The Chippewas’ score was set up by a bold fake punt shovel pass from Jake Walrath to Thomas Pannunzio on fourth-and-11 which took the ball from their own 44 to the Toledo seven-yard line.

Central Michigan opted to ride the momentum wave and go for the onside kick after their eight-point play, but Jerjuan Newton fell on the ball to give Toledo the ball at advantageous field position. Toledo’s resultant counterpunch was quick and effective, with Peny Boone’s second touchdown of the day capping off a 42-yard drive lasting just over two minutes.

The Chips put together one last drive to try and bridge the gap, with Jase Bauer finding Thomas Pannunzio for the receiver’s first career touchdown on a seven-yard pass, but Toledo would kneel the ball out upon recovering another onside kick, putting the final score at 32-17.

Toledo found a way to win when their offensive leader had an off day, with Dequan Finn finishing 9-of-17 passing for 97 yards and a touchdown, with an additional 24 yards rushing. Peny Boone shouldered the offensive load instead, as he has for much of the season, collecting two touchdowns and 186 yards on 21 carries. He’ll finish the 2023 regular season campaign with over 100+ yards in nine of his 12 games. Junior Vandeross III led the Rockets with 30 yards on three receptions, while Jaden Dottin finished with the team’s lone touchdown.

Defensively, Dallas Gant (12) and Daniel Bolden (10) finished in the double-digits in tackles for the Rockets. Bolden also forced the key fumble on Mation Lukes, which was recovered by teammate Zachary Ford (four tackles.) Judge Culpepper was the team’s leading pass rush threat, with 2.5 tackles-for-loss and sacks on the day.

Luke Pawlak finished with one field goal from 38 yards out.

Central Michigan put up a bit of a fight on both sides of the ball, but their lone turnover was ultimately too much in the final analysis.

Jase Bauer had a nice day for himself, finishing with 182 yards on 15-of-26 passing, with one passing touchdown and one rushing touchdown. Marion Lukes was once again a centerpiece for the CMU offense, with 53 rushing yards and 48 receiving yards. Thomas Pannunzio, a former cornerback at Colorado State, was partly or wholly responsible for CMU’s final two scores, with his 49-yard fake punt reception and his seven-yard touchdown aiding the Chippewas effort. He led CMU with three receptions for 60 yards. Tyson Davis led the team in receptions (five) and had 59 yards.

Dakota Cochran led CMU with eight tackles, while Jarvarius Sims picked up the team’s lone pass break-up. Three Chips tied for the lead with one tackle-for-loss, while Quindario Lee picked up a solo sack to lead the team.

Tristan Mattson was 1-of-2 on field goals, missing from 56 yards and making from 26 yards.

Central’s season will end at home, with CMU losing four of their last five games down the stretch to finish 5-7 on the year.

Toledo now prepares for the MAC Championship Game in Detroit, Michigan, where they’ll take on the Miami RedHawks. Kickoff is set for Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023 at noon Eastern time.