For the first time since 2001, the Toledo Rockets completed a 10-win season after a 32-17 win over No. 24 Temple Owls, giving Jason Candle his first win as the Rockets' new head coach. The first half was pretty sloppy due to terrible weather, but things started to really pick up for UT later on, as did the game's overall craziness.
The Rockets couldn't get on the board after their first three offensive possessions, being forced to punt for the third time with only one first down gained thus far. A poor exchange from quarterback to running back for the Owls was the first hiccup of the game with Ja'Waun Woodley coming in to help break it all up. Ball went back and out of the end zone for a safety, putting the Rockets up 3-2 early in the second quarter.
Of course, that would be the same time Toledo's offense starts to roll. Phillip Ely playing in his last game for Toledo helped move the chains with a connection to sophomore Cody Thompson, then another to Corey Jones.
Defensively, Toledo kept bringing pressure to quarterback PJ Walker, forcing him to get out of the pocket and only complete six passes in the first half to limit the Owls' offense. They ran 29 plays in the first half for 67 yards (2.3 yards/play) while the Rockets started playing better as the second quarter continued. They'd go to the locker rooms with a 12-3 lead as Jameson Vest tacked on a 38-yard field goal in the closing seconds.
Now's probably a good time to tell you about the weather. It was wet out. It was very, very wet out. And playing on a grass terrain is a football player's dream but sometimes it just becomes nightmare. Everybody became a little bit harder to tackle, and Temple picked up the slack on offense to open up the second half.
In six plays, the Owls matched their first half total for 67 yards on their first offensive drive. Their rushing attack was starting to get too good to handle, but the red zone defense really limited what Temple was able to come away with, settling for their second and third field goals in the third quarter.
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It was already raining a lot, but then it started down pouring. There was one point where the ball became a little too slick so Ely had his center and left guard swap spots before getting the play off just so somebody could get a grip on it. Temple would burn their first timeout, at which point the rain would magically go away. It was 3rd & 12, Ely found Jones open deep over the middle hits him right on the numbers at the goal line, but the receiver just couldn't hang onto the ball as he hit the ground to settle for a 3-point lead heading into the fourth quarter.
Don't worry, the rain would come back to make things harder for everybody.
Temple started having troubles again, not only moving the ball, but even snapping the ball became a problem. Thankfully for UT, they'd have a huge play out of Thompson to give them the two-possession lead again. After Temple was forced to punt it away, Toledo's first play of the fourth quarter was an 80-yard score. It looked very clean, very safe; Ely took the snap out of the shotgun, calmly sat back and hit Thompson over the middle as he safely secured it. Ball security was a priority, but so was winning that track meet as that play went to the house, extending the Rockets lead to 19-9 with a little over 12 minutes to play.
Big hits all day out of Rolan Milligan. It seemed like the UAB transfer was always delivering a big hit, finishing with nine tackles (seven solo). His second pass breakup was tipped up and landed in the hands of Juwan Haynes. This, like many other seniors, was Haynes final game as a Rocket; it was his first career interception.
Second team All-MAC running backs Kareem Hunt and Terry Swanson haven't been huge factors of the game up to this point, but they helped lead the way on the next drive while Ely completed three passes on his end. Alonzo Russell missed the first half because of his targeting hit in the regular season finale, but caught two of those balls including one that would get them to the 1-yard line. Hunt would be the one to punch it in from there.
Oh, of course, Tuesday night football, of course things had to get weird.
Temple would eventually string a drive together to get their first touchdown of the game with a 2-yard run by Kip Patton, followed up by a goofy 2-point conversion to make it an 8-point game. Obviously, it's onside kick time.
No clue how Temple didn't recover this. pic.twitter.com/gddIU0dy3z— Dr. Saturday (@YahooDrSaturday) December 23, 2015
Temple players know they have it. Tyler Maynes knows for a fact that he fell on and secured the ball, but after just about everybody on the field creates a big pile-up, it takes a long time for the refs to sort it all out. Owls pointing that they have it. Rockets say otherwise. Referees forced to make up their mind, eventually say that Toledo has the ball and there's basically no way of telling who's right and who's wrong. There's plenty of arguing going on between the officials and Owls head coach Matt Rhule, but there was no changing the outcome of that onside kick.
Hunt doesn't care, all he knows is that he's getting the handoffs and doing what he can do to help out: one for five yards and the next one for a 41-yard score to extend the lead.
Temple would take shots down field, but the passing defense was still about as good as it was all game long to break up shots to the end zone for UT to hold on for the win.
Ely found out he wouldn't be able to return to Toledo next year after appealing for a sixth year of eligibility and went out on a high note. 20-for-28 through the air for 285 yards, the Alabama transfer spread the ball around well with at least three completions to five different players. Thompson led with four receptions and 119 yards while Jones had three for 42 yards, both with a touchdown reception. Russell had three catches for 32 yards, tight end Michael Roberts had three for 46.
Chase Murdock led the UT defense with 11 tackles, Trent Voss with 10 (both with six solo). Voss would finish with a pair of quarterback hurries, as did defensive end Treyvon Hester.
Hunt and Swanson had 132 of the team's 150 rushing yards. Hunt had 15 handles for 79 yards while Swanson had 11 carries for 53 yards.
Rockets may not have found their way into the MAC Championship game this year, but finished with a 10-2 overall record on the season.