Toledo (9-1, 6-0 MAC) clinched a second straight MAC West title and a trip to the MAC Championship Game in Detroit on Weednesday night, taking down the Eastern Michigan Eagles (4-6, 2-4 MAC) with a 49-23 win at the Glass Bowl. The Rockets finally played close to perfect ball and there was nothing the Eagles could do about it.
Despite all the wins, Toledo hasn’t had many games this year where both the offense and defense came together and early on, it became apparent they were going to it Wednesday night.
Cornerback Quinyon Mitchell — who had done everything besides get a pick this year — intercepted Eagles quarterback Austin Smith’s third pass of the game to give Toledo good field position early. It didn’t take too long for the Rockets to find the end zone after that as quarterback Dequan Finn hit wide open tight end Dalton Andrews for a ten-yard touchdown.
Things only got worse for EMU. Their next three drives resulted in punts while Toledo’s next three drives resulted in touchdowns, with Peny Boone getting a nine-yard rushing touchdown, while Junior Vandeross hauled in two touchdown passes from 28 and 11 yards out to push the margin to a four-score game before the end of the second quarter.
This first half stretch was the most dominant Dequan Finn has been this year. The offensive line gave him great protection as usual, but he made plenty of impressive plays himself. He looked Mahomes-esque on a fourth-and-5 where it looked like he might be forced to try to run for the first with Eagles defenders around him. Instead, he threw a sidearm bullet to Jerjuan Newton for 24 yards to continue the drive. Two plays later, Finn found Vandeross for another touchdown to put the score at 28-0.
Toledo’s final drive of the half may have been Finn’s best drive of the season. He completed five passes for a total of 85 yards, that included a couple more difficult throws. Jacquez Stuart capped off the drive with a five yard touchdown to make it 35-0.
To be able to give the rock back to the offense in the first half, the defense came together as a unit and swarmed any Eagle with a ball. It’s hard to pick out standout players because everyone was so involved, but safety Maxen Hook led the game with eight total tackles while cornerback Chris McDonald provided great coverage along with Mitchell. Linebacker Terrance Taylor has had an up-and-down season but made an impact in the running and passing game.
Just before the half, Eastern Michigan was able to string together an 11-play drive to get on the board with a Jesus Gomez field goal from 25 yards out, putting the halftime tally at 35-3.
EMU defensive back Cameron Smith gave the Eagles a chance to build off the momentum of the Gomez field goal in the prior period with an interception in the endzone on Toledo’s first drive of the second half, but it just wasn’t their night. Mitchell Tomazek would trot onto the field after an EMU three-and-out for his fifth punt of the night.
The Rockets didn’t mess up on the next drive, taking the ball 92 yards down the field for another touchdown, with Peny Boone setting up his second rushing touchdown of the game with a huge 47-yard catch-and-run to put Toledo up 42-3.
Boone would notch the hat trick on Toledo’s last drive with the starters on the field, scoring his third rushing touchdown a two-yard run to cap off a 13-play, 88-yard drive lasting over eight minutes.
Unsurprisingly, multiple members of the Rockets offense finished with impressive numbers. Boone finished with only 52 rushing yards, but had a game-high 116 receiving yards and three rushing touchdowns. Dequan Finn threw for 403 yards on 23-of-27 passing, with three touchdowns and a pick. Jerjuan Newton had six receptions for 108 yards, and Junior Vandeross had a 100 percent touchdown rate with two scores on two receptions for 39 yards.
Credit to Eastern Michigan, which fought until the end. They didn’t get in the end zone until the third quarter, but it was on a pretty cool play. It looked like running back Samson Evans was going to run it out of the Wildcat, but Evans stood up instead, tossing the ball to fellow back Elijah Jackson-Anderson, who waltzed in for a 28-yard score.
With their first drive of the fourth, Eastern used some positive running plays to get to the end zone again. Running back Jaylon Jackson had 37 of his 74 yards on this drive and finished it with a six-yard touchdown.
The Eastern Michigan defense also battled late. Defensive lineman Jaden Gaines got home to Toledo backup quarterback Tucker Gleason and stripped it from him to give the Eagles the ball back late.
Eastern Michigan took advantage of that and scored for a third-straight drive to put it at 49-23. Dontae McMillan, who was playing in his first game of 2023, got in from one yard out.
Although they finished on a high note, this game was a symbol of a disastrous season for Eastern Michigan. They entered the season with real belief they could win a MAC title and now they sit just a loss away from being eliminated from bowl contention.
Toledo’s year has gone the opposite direction, as they have fully lived up to expectations. They are headed to Detroit for the second-straight year and are a couple games away from a perfect conference record in the regular season. After tonight’s performance, some might wonder how they let that Illinois game in Week 1 get away from them. The loss will likely be an albatross on the neck of the Rockets, who have been trying to make a case to be included in the various Top 25 rankings.
Toledo will head to Bowling Green for the Battle of I-75 to face the red-hot Falcons next Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. Eastern time.
Eastern Michigan will host Akron next Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. Eastern time, looking to stay alive for bowl contention.