Mother Nature may not have provided an ideal setting for the opening night of weekday MACtion 2014, but that did not stop the Toledo Rockets from remaining atop the MAC West Standings following a 30-20 victory over the Kent State Golden Flashes. On a night where participants on the field may have outnumbered fans in the stands at Dix Stadium, the Rockets (6-3, 5-0 MAC) took to the ground early and survived a second half rally and the loss of their starting quarterback, against the now winless in conference Flashes (1-8, 0-5 MAC).
Following the lead of their veteran offense line and the legs of Kareem Hunt, who finished with 141 yards on 18 carries, the Rockets took an early 6-0 lead on field goals from Jeremiah Detmer of 26 and 28 yards. Detmer showed why he is an all-conference performer as he battled tricky conditions all night and would extend the lead to 9-0 on a 45 yard kick early in the second quarter.
After multiple Kent State possessions that concluded with Anthony Melchiori punts, the Rockets finally reached the end zone after a 12-play 82 yard drive when quarterback Logan Woodside connected with Justin Olack on 16-yard strike. Colin Reardon and the Flashes offense struggled throughout the first half, netting just 104 total yards, including just 17 rushing yards as the Rockets took a 16-0 lead into the halftime break.
Jordan Haden picked off the Flashes sophomore quarterback, sending Reardon to the bench in favor of Nathan Strock early in the third quarter, which led to an Alonzo Russell touchdown reception to make it 23-0. However, the Flashes showed no sign of throwing in the towel as Toledo native Nick Holley would get the home team on the board with a 50 yard touchdown scamper, but Toledo immediately answered with a Kishon Wilcher touchdown reception to push the score to 30-7.
A 65 yard Strock scamper proved to the key play on the Flashes second touchdown drive of the second half, when the replacement QB connected with Ernest Calhoun on a four yard touchdown toss to bring Kent State to once again within two scores. Following an injury to Rockets starter Logan Woodside and an errant snap that flew over the punter's head, the Flashes would take over deep in Rocket territory. Strock hooked up with tight end Casey Pierce tfor a hree-yard touchdown pass to start the fourth quarter, closing the gap to just 10 points but the subsequent two-point conversion was unsuccessful.
Strock continued to show some playmaking abilities as he once again drove the Flashes well into Rocket territory before losing the handle on the ball while trying to scramble midway through the fourth quarter and giving it back to the visiting Rockets. Filling in for Woodside, freshman Michael Julian, showed little to instill confidence in the Rockets coaches or fans offering shaky throws and suspect decision making that rendered the UT offense stagnant in the final quarter. Strock would get another chance to draw closer with under 6 minutes to play, but a three-and-out led to a punt and the Rockets were able to string together a couple first downs on the ground milking away most of the clock to hang on for victory.
On a night where completing passes downfield proved to be extremely challenging, Woodside ended the evening completing 16-for-25 for 202 yards and three touchdowns before exiting with an injury near the end of the third quarter. The Rockets also lost the services of all-conference center Greg Mancz in the third quarter when Mancz was helped off the field and walked into the locker room with an apparent leg injury.
For the Flashes, the drive to pick up their first conference win will take to the road with trips to Bowling Green and Buffalo over the course of the next two weeks. Meanwhile, the now banged up Rockets face the most challenging conference games of the season, with a trip to Northern Illinois on deck next Tuesday followed by a home tilt with rival Bowling Green on Wednesday November 18. The Huskies will once again stand in the way of the Rockets and a date in the MAC Championship game at Ford Field.