Following last year’s 63-60 shootout at the Glass Bowl, it was safe to assume there would be points aplenty when the Rockets rolled in to Kalamazoo to take on Western Michigan Saturday.
Toledo held up its end of the bargain in the 37-17 victory, racking up 521 yards of total offense, including 258 yards for 17 points in the first quarter alone.
Junior running back David Fluellen accounted for 124 of the Rockets first quarter yards —94 rushing and 31 passing — including a 53-yard touchdown run with 1:29 left on the clock. He finished with a career-high 213 yards rushing and three touchdowns on 21 carries (10.1 yards per carry).
“We knew how important this game was as an in-division game,” said Fluellen. “We knew this was a really good team and we had to get on them early.”
The favored Broncos, however, could not overcome the loss of senior quarterback Alex Carder who left in the second half of last week’s 30-24 win over UCONN after hitting his throwing hand on a defender’s helmet.
Carder underwent surgery to have a pin inserted in the middle finger of his right hand Thursday. WMU head coach Bill Cubit said Carder will return this season but he is uncertain when.
“Well we’ve had a lot of players that are out or hurt,” Cubit said. “That definitely affected us, but Toledo does deserve credit. Tonight we didn’t play well, and they played really well.”
Junior signal caller Tyler Van Tubbergen struggled behind center in Carder’s stead, particularly in the early going as the Broncos tallied just 14 yards of offense in the first quarter.
Van Tubbergen failed to complete his first four passes and consequently the Broncos did not pass midfield or even convert for a first down until nearly three minutes into the second quarter. Van Tubbergen capped of that drive with a 22-yard touchdown heave to freshman receiver Jaime Wilson for the halftime score of 20-7.
Van Tubbergen finished with 232 yards on 26-of-46 passing with a touchdown and three interceptions.
“I definitely came in comfortable,” Van Tubbergen said. “You have to practice each week like you’re going to start. I’ve been going hard every day since last Saturday trying to prepare. You just always have to be ready. Today it just didn’t work out.”
Wilson, the nation’s second-leading receiver, compiled 103 yards on 10 receptions with a touchdown.
Western Michigan went three-and-out on the opening drive of the second half but a 63-yard punt sailed over Dwight Macon’s head to the 1-yard line where he grabbed the pigskin on the bounce.
Macon backtracked to the end zone looking to find space from the coverage unit but was dragged down for a safety which made the score 20-9 at the 13:36 mark of the third quarter.
The Broncos began the next drive at their own 36-yard line with a chance to make the game particularly interesting.
But after he led his team across midfield Van Tubbergen was picked off by sophomore cornerback Jordan Haden who returned the ball 63 yards for a touchdown which gave the Rockets a 27-9 tilt with just under five minutes gone in the third quarter.
“The coaches called a good play and I had an opportunity to make a play on the ball,” Haden said. “I saw the tight end coming across the field while I was sitting in the flats and then I just ran for the end zone.”
Van Tubbergen was intercepted again the following drive, this time by junior safety Vladimir Emilien. The Michigan transfer’s pick gave way to Fluellen’s third touchdown of the night.
The Broncos scored on 48-yard run by Brian Fields just before the end of the third quarter but Van Tubbergen’s two-point conversion toss to Josh Schaffer marked Western’s last score of the night.
Detmer capped off the scoring with a 23-yard field goal with 9:46 left in the contest.
It was not all positive for the Rockets, however, as senior defensive end T.J. Fatinikun had to be helped off the field in the first half. Head coach Matt Campbell told the media after the game that Fatinikun’s lower leg injury would put him out the rest of the season, effectively ending his collegiate career.
“It’s tough, especially for a competitor like T.J.,” Campbell said. “He’s worked so hard to get back and you don’t know why these things happen but as I told T.J., it won’t define him. One of the great things about T.J. is leadership and his ability to respond and if I know T.J. he’ll respond to this.”
Defensive end Christian Smith and center Zac Kerin left late in the second half with leg injuries as well but both are expected back for next weekend’s clash with Central Michigan.
The Homecoming game is set to kickoff Saturday, Oct. 6 at 7 p.m.
Photo Credits: Vincent D. Scebbi