Rockets win Military BowlWritten by Zach Davis | | firstname.lastname@example.org
WASHINGTON, D.C.-In a tightly-contested game, the Rockets outlasted Air Force 42-41 in the Military Bowl on Dec. 28, winning their first bowl game since 2005.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the 105 Rockets that came to Washington D.C.,” UT Head Coach Matt Campbell said. “This football team has been through a lot this year. This team is resilient and we have had our backs against the wall all year. I’m so proud of our kids and what they demanded we accomplish.”
After trailing 21-7, the Falcons (7-6, 3-4 Mountain West) tied the game three times before the Rockets (9-4, 7-1 Mid-American Conference) grabbed a 42-35 lead with just five minutes remaining. Air Force drove down the field and scored on a 33-yard pass with just 52 seconds remaining on a blown coverage, appearing to send the game to overtime.
Air Force, however, faked the extra point and went for the win, watching their holder fumble the ball before he could option pass it to the trailing kicker. The ball rolled out of bounds and sealed the Rockets victory 42-41.
“We talked about [a possible fake],” Campbell said. “They’ve faked some extra points and some field goals. I give credit to our staff because we were in a defensive call, not a block formation. Our kids executed with great precision.”
Just one game into his coaching career, Toledo’s Matt Campbell did what former head coach Tim Beckman’s teams struggled to do over and over again — win an important game down the stretch.
In failed opportunities against Ohio State, Syracuse and Northern Illinois this year, the Rockets couldn’t hold leads or struggled to make the clutch play to seal a win. Combined with a bowl loss to FIU and the team failing to show up in a rout against NIU in 2010, as well as the team going 1-4 in its final five games failing to become bowl eligible in 2009, the Rockets never seemed to be able to get over the hump.
“This is special because we broke the trend of Coach Beckman and his first two senior classes he had while he was going here,” said UT senior running back Adonis Thomas, who rushed for a game high 108 yards and one touchdown in his final game at Toledo. “Coach Campbell takes over and instills something new in us, a resiliency not to give up or be defeated. It just feels special to break the trend.”
“I just think sometimes it’s timing,” Campbell said. “What you are proud of is these kids. For these kids to fight back and win a game like this they deserve this.”
UT sophomore receiver Bernard Reedy received the game’s MVP honors after catching four passes for 126 yards and three touchdowns.
“Bernard has taken advantage of his opportunities,” Campbell said. “He demanded after the season was over to get himself in a situation that when he had the opportunity to make plays he was going to do it.”
Wideout Eric Page finished with 13 catches for 59 yards, tying the MAC all-time career receptions record at 306. He finishes his junior season just 44 catches short of breaking Oklahoma’s Ryan Broyles’ all-time record for career receptions of 349, which he set this year.
“With Eric it seems like he breaks a new record every week,” Campbell said. “That‘s a tribute to Eric Page and what he brings to this football program. He is first class in everything he does. He deserves everything he has got.”
UT sophomore quarterback Terrance Owens received his first start in two seasons in which he and junior Austin Dantin were both healthy. Owens completed 19-of-24 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns. Dantin passed for just six yards on three attempts, one of which was an interception.
Toledo also played with some injuries. The Rockets lost both of their starting defensive tackles to right leg injuries on the same play in the second quarter. Senior Jonnie Roberts returned briefly to the game, while classmate Jonathan Lamb broke his leg. Toledo also lost sophomore Dan Molls to a suspected concussion.
“We pride ourselves on recruiting,” Campbell said. “I think the depth we have on the defensive line is outstanding. If you look at our interior you can see the depth we have had all year. These guys rose up and really did a great job.”
The Rockets took the first possession down the field but freshman kicker J.T. Detmer missed on a 47-yard field goal. On the same possession, wideout Bernard Reedy dropped a sure 60-yard touchdown.
After stopping Air Force on a three-and-out on its first possession, UT drove down the field again and Reedy made up for his mistake catching a wide open 17-yard touchdown from Owens to give the Rockets the match up’s first seven points.
Air Force fumbled the following kickoff and Thomas took advantage taking the first play 41 yards to the end zone for a 14-0 advantage.
After a 22-yard Air Force touchdown from quarterback Tim Jefferson on a drive including a fourth down conversion, UT standout Page immediately answered the score with an 87-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, boosting the lead to 21-7 with 2:17 remaining.
Down two touchdowns, the Falcons scored in just 34 seconds after a 60-yard rush by senior Jonathan Warzeka set up a three-yard rush from fullback Mike DeWitt to cut the lead to 21-14.
After a three-and out from the Rockets, Air Force capped off a 79-yard drive with a one-yard score by senior Asher Clark on 4th and goal on the one to tie the game at 21.
On the next possession, Owens completed a 49-yard strike down the middle of the field to Reedy, who outran both Falcons safeties to retake the lead 28-21.
The Rockets took over after a failed fourth down conversion from Air Force but couldn’t take advantage. Reedy caught a 27-yard pass but fumbled, giving the Falcons the ball at UT’s 44. Air Force scored on a 37-yard completion a few plays later to tie it at 28, which remained the score at the half.
After both teams failed to score on their first possession, Toledo safety Jermaine Robinson picked off Jefferson and returned it 37 yards to put the Rockets back ahead 35-28.
Air Force again answered the Rockets putting together a 50-yard drive ending in a two-yard rush by DeWitt to tie it at 35.
The Rockets took their final lead of the game with just five minutes remaining with Reedy’s third touchdown of the contest from 33 yards out after spinning around a defender and weaving through traffic to get to the end zone.
Air Force would have the ability to tie the game at the end but passed it up for their failed two-point opportunity.