Big second half lifts Rockets to 34-21 win over Kent StateWritten by Mike Bauman | | firstname.lastname@example.org
In the first quarter at the Glass Bowl last night, it was déjà vu all over again for the Rockets as visiting Mid-American Conference East Division foe Kent State jumped out to an early lead. This time, however, Toledo made the big plays when it needed to. The Rockets scored 27 unanswered points and held the Golden Flashes to 42 yards of total offense in the second half to win by a score of 34-21.
“That first half was nothing like Rocket football needs to be, and our seniors along with the rest of the team stepped up and did an outstanding job of finishing the football game,” Toledo head coach Tim Beckman said. “Our coaching staff did a great job of getting our kids together [at halftime] and figuring out what we were doing wrong and what we needed to improve on, and our players met that challenge and came out and won a football game.”
Kent State outgained Toledo 233-133 in total offense in the first half as running back Jacquise Terry, Jr. racked up 96 yards on 18 carries, scoring all three touchdowns for the Golden Flashes to give his team a 21-7 advantage. That was not the case in the second half, however, as the Rockets’ defense clamped down and held Kent State to -24 yards in the third quarter alone.
“It was a total team effort,” sophomore defensive end T.J. Fatinikun said. Fatinikun finished the game with five tackles, including a sack and two-and-a-half tackles for loss. “We heard about their defense all week. We took that as a chip on our shoulder to show that we are the best defense.”
The Golden Flashes (2-4, 1-2 MAC) entered Saturday’s contest as the top rushing defense in the nation, limiting their opponents to just 59.6 yards per game on the ground. Toledo (4-3, 3-0 MAC) finished the game with 396 yards of total offense, 167 of which was on the ground. Sophomore quarterback Austin Dantin led the Rockets rushing attack with a career-high 72 yards on 11 carries and a touchdown. Dantin also completed a career-high 30 passes as he went 30-of-47 for 229 yards and one touchdown.
“I think it all started with our preparation in practice this week,” Dantin said. “After the first half, no one was down. We knew what we were capable of doing.”
Sophomore wide receiver Eric Page had a career-high 14 receptions for 109 yards, while junior running back Adonis Thomas had 47 yards on nine carries with one touchdown.
Kent State scored on its’ opening drive of the game, going 75 yards in eight plays as Terry punched it in from one-yard out to give the Golden Flashes a 7-0 lead by the 12:31 mark. Terry got his second touchdown of the quarter on Kent State’s ensuing drive, this time on a five-yard run that capped a 12-play, 80-yard drive with 3:07 to go in the quarter to give his team an early 14-0 advantage.
The Rockets answered in the second quarter when Thomas took a swing pass from Dantin 22 yards to the house, diving across the goal line and into the end zone to make it 14-7 with 13:17 remaining in the half. However, a short punt by Rockets’ freshman punter Vince Penza put the Golden Flashes on the Toledo 41-yard line. Five plays and 1:19 later, Terry scored his third rushing touchdown of the game from two yards out to make it 21-7 Kent State at the 3:44 mark.
The Rockets did get the ball back with 3:01 to go in the half after Penza’s punt hit the Golden Flashes’ Kirk Belgrave in the back and junior defensive back Isaiah Ballard recovered at the 50-yard line. However, the Rockets went three-and-out on their next drive and had to settle for the 14-point deficit heading into the locker room at halftime.
With 13:38 on the clock in the third quarter, freshman wide receiver James Green got hit underneath the chin by the Golden Flashes’ Cobrani Mixon as he attempted a catch over the middle and had to be carted off the field on a stretcher. His status at press time was unknown.
“We took it personal,” Ballard said. Ballard had three tackles, two pass breakups, a fumble recovery and an interception in the game. “With that happening, we took it like we lost a brother. We all came together and spoke to each other, and we stepped up and played how we’re supposed to.”
Freshman wide receiver Bernard Reedy scored from 11 yards out on a reverse from junior running back Morgan Williams to make it 21-14 at the 8:52 mark. The Rockets got on the board again on their ensuing drive on a 22-yard run from Thomas to tie the game at 21 with 6:24 left in the third. With 49 seconds remaining in the quarter, a 38-yard field goal from junior kicker Bill Claus made it 24-21 heading into the fourth.
Dantin scrambled for a 40-yard run on Toledo’s first drive of the fourth quarter to put the Rockets on the Golden Flashes’ 23-yard line. That set up Claus’ second-career field goal—this time from 32 yards out—to give Toledo a 27-21 lead with 9:07 to play. Penza’s 54-yard punt with 6:43 left pinned Kent State on its’ own nine-yard line, and Terry fumbled on the next play as sophomore linebacker Dan Molls recovered. Three plays later, Dantin ran around the right side and scored from six yards out to give his team a 34-21 lead at the 5:18 mark. Ballard’s interception on the Rockets’ final defensive possession sealed the game for Toledo.
The Rockets will be in action again next Saturday at the Glass Bowl when they take on Ball State (2-5, 1-2 MAC) at 7 p.m.