The Toledo Rockets (2-1) overcame several untimely miscues to pull out a 21-17 win over the San Jose State Spartans (1-3) Saturday night at the Glass Bowl. The Rockets defense came up with a number of pivotal plays to hold a pass-happy Spartans team in check, and the offense did what it needed to in the clutch to secure the result.
Two weeks ago against Illinois, Toledo came so close to sealing a win with a devastating sack on fourth down late in the fourth. Instead, the Illini QB made an incredible play and Toledo would go on to lose the season opener. This week, Toledo’s pass rush got to the backfield once again on a pivotal down late in the game. This time, linebackers Jeremiah Peters and D’Andre Ragin gave no time for San Jose State QB Chevan Cordeiro to pull off a miracle. The big sack set up a fourth-and-18 with two minutes to go. The Spartans elected to punt with all three timeouts, but wouldn’t see the ball again as the homestanding Rockets walked away winners of the back-and-forth affair.
The Spartans started out the game having Cordeiro air out the ball frequently, testing the Toledo secondary. The Rockets defense responded to it well, forcing a turnover-on-downs after allowing a big 39-yard reception during the first drive. Cornerback Quinyon Mitchell was tested time and time again as Cordeiro went to his preferred target Nick Nash numerous times. Mitchell was credited for four pass deflections and had a hand in disrupting up San Jose State passing plays all night.
The Rockets offense couldn’t get much going early, starting with two three-and-outs. After San Jose State got on the board with a field goal midway through the second quarter, Toledo’s offense didn’t even get the ball back afterwards. San Jose State did a few short kickoffs during the game to avoid returns by Toledo and was able to recover the one following their opening score.
The Spartans capitalized as Cordeiro found tight end Dominick Mazotti for a touchdown to give the road team a 10-0 lead. At this point in the game with less than seven minutes to go in the half, Toledo QB Dequan Finn had only attempted two passes.
The following kickoff was nearly another disaster for Toledo as San Jose State kicked the ball downfield with no one picking it up until the last second. This set up the Rockets at their own two yard line.
The end of the first half was a great example of Dequan Finn’s leadership. Down 10-0, 98 yards from the end zone, Finn orchestrated a 18-play touchdown drive where he completed seven passes and rushed three times. Finn capped off the impressive drive with a 15-yard laser to Jerjuan Newton for a touchdown with seconds to go in the half.
Although Finn looked composed most of the game, he did make a costly mistake in the third quarter. On a second down play in his own territory, he lofted a ball into a well-covered area that was picked off by San Jose State’s Tre Jenkins. The Spartans took advantage, scoring a touchdown a few plays later to regain their ten point lead at 17-7.
Unshaken by his previous mistake, Finn led a second lengthy touchdown drive leading the Rockets 63 yards downfield on eight plays. During the drive, he picked up a crucial short yardage fourth down with his legs and then scampered to the endzone on an 18-yard touchdown run two plays later. Finn only finished with 92 yards passing and 62 on the ground, but made those yards count.
Now down by just three, Toledo’s defense made its biggest play of the game. With San Jose State backed up on their own 14-yard line on third down, cornerback Chris McDonald picked off Chevan Cordeiro and took it to the house to give Toledo a 21-17 lead. The play continued a nice night from McDonald who had a couple of pass deflections and provided good coverage overall.
Toledo’s offense stalled out a couple more times, but the defense remained relentless in the second half. Big defensive lineman Judge Culpepper came up with a huge sack to force a punt in the fourth. In total, the Rockets had five sacks on the night with Culpepper leading the way with two.
Even when the Spartans got the ball back immediately after another Toledo miscue during the punt, the Rockets D forced a quick turnover on downs. The confidence that the San Jose State offense entered the game with, started to fade as the game wound down. When the Spartans punted with just two minutes left in the game, it felt like a waving of the white flag.
Toledo definitely didn’t play their best football of the night, turning the ball over on a punt and kickoff — and also setting up horrible field position after an error on a different kickoff. Fortunately for them, the defense stepped up and smothered a San Jose State offense that was coming in hot. The unit held Chevan Cordeiro to 228 yards on 41 attempts and surrendered just 40 rushing yards all game.
The offense also did just enough, with the team’s leader Dequan Finn scraping together some clutch plays along with running back Peny Boone. Boone, filling in for injured Jacquez Stuart, ran for 123 yards on 13 carries and closed out the game with a couple of first down runs late in the fourth.
Jason Candle will be looking to clean up the avoidable errors his team made that gave San Jose State a chance to win. The way the defense responded to the various adversities should have him feeling good about defensive coordinator Vince Kehres’ tutelage of the unit. The Rockets should also still be feeling confident in their offense led by Dequan Finn, who didn’t have the opportunity to put the ball in the air much in the contest.
Toledo starts MAC play with a home matchup next Saturday against Western Michigan at 1:30 p.m. Eastern.