Toledo Holds on To the I-75 TrophyWritten by Nate Pentecost | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Toledo held off a late surge by the Falcons Saturday night to earn a 27-15 win and retain the Battle of I-75 trophy.
The victory is the Rockets (2-1, 1-0 Mid-American Conference) third in as many seasons over arch rival Bowling Green (1-2, 0-1 MAC) and Matt Campbell’s first over “the team down south” as head coach of the Rockets.
“It was an extremely hard fought game,” Campbell said. “I could not be prouder of the leadership of our team. We’ve got 19 great seniors that have led our program for the past nine months and they were critical tonight.”
It was, however, the absence of a particular senior which was most noticeable Saturday night. For the second-straight game and only the second time in 28 games for which he was available, senior quarterback Austin Dantin did not spend time behind center.
His one-time cohort in Toledo’s two-quarterback system, junior Terrance Owens, played the entire game, throwing for career-high 303 yards on 20-of-28 (71 percent) passing with a touchdown. Owens’ previous high was 300 yards, set last week at Wyoming.
“It all comes down to practicing,” Owens said. “I just prepare to be the starting quarterback, know that the team has my back and I go out there and execute.”
Campbell made certain to mention after the game, that while Owens took Dantin’s share of the snaps, Dantin added a new wrinkle to the special teams unit by joining them during punt coverage throughout the contest.
“It tells you everything about the character and the attitude of [Dantin],” Campbell said. “He wants to be in the game and he wants to help this team.”
Campbell stopped short, as he has since the Wyoming game, of naming Owens the sole starter.
“We will need Austin somewhere during this season,” Campbell said. “Right now we have great faith in Terrance and I’m proud of him for doing a great job leading this team these past two weeks.”
Owens got things going early, connecting with redshirt freshman Alonzo Russell on a 66-yard strike down the left sideline at the 7:45 mark for the Rockets longest pass play of the season and the only points of the first quarter.
Russell, who has emerged as one of Owens favorite targets, finished the night with six catches for 152 yards to go with his first quarter score. The former three-star recruit has 275 yards and a pair of touchdowns on 13 catches (21.2 yards per catch) in his first three games as a Rocket.
“Alonzo has great potential. He’s a young man who’s come in and worked extremely hard, he’s been disciplined and he’s someone who has gotten better every day,” Campbell said. “Again, I think a lot of credit goes to our leadership on offense, holding those guys accountable and making them get better and play to the standard we expect here.”
Sophomore kicker Jeremy Detmer added three points to Toledo’s lead less than three minutes into the second quarter before St. John’s Jesuit graduate Cheatham Norrils picked off Falcons junior quarterback Matt Schilz at his own 41-yard line.
In addition to the interception, Schilz was sacked twice. He completed 24-of-36 (67 percent) passes on the day for 216 yards.
The sophomore cornerback’s interception led to a one-yard touchdown plunge by junior running back David Fluellen which gave the Rockets a commanding 17-0 advantage with 9:16 until the half.
Fluellen finished the night with a pair of touchdowns and 81 yards on 21 carries (3.9 yards per carry).
While several members of the Rockets high-powered offense had outstanding performances, the defense, which allowed 1,150 yards the first two games, provided the biggest boost of the night.
Toledo’s defensive unit did not allow the Falcons to pass midfield until halfway through the second quarter on a drive which ended in a missed 36-yard field attempt off the foot of Bowling Green’s redshirt freshman Tyler Tate.
“The biggest thing we emphasized all week in practice was tackling,” said senior linebacker Dan Molls, who finished with a game-high 13 tackles. “For the most part everyone tackled really well tonight.”
Schilz completed five consecutive passes for 63 yards to bring the Falcons to the red zone on the closing drive of the half. However, a sack by Toledo’s redshirt freshman linebacker Trent Voss forced BG to settle for a field goal and a 17-3 halftime deficit.
The Rockets wasted no time adding to their lead in the second half, scoring on the opening drive. A pair of runs and a 34-yard pass from Owens to Russell set up the 22-yard touchdown scamper by Fluellen.
The Falcons responded by scoring on their first drive of the half. Junior tight end Alex Bayer reeled in a 23-yard catch to set up sophomore running back Anton Samuel’s 23-yard touchdown bolt. Tate’s extra point attempt bounced off the crossbar to leave the score at 24-9.
Samuel finished with a game-high 112 yards on 16 carries (7 yards per carry).
Late in the third quarter Bowling Green recovered a fumble by Fluellen at Toledo’s 24-yard line which gave way to a two-yard touchdown run by senior running back John Pettigrew. A failed two-point conversion left the score 24-15 with just under two minutes gone in the fourth.
Toledo did not allow the Falcons to reach the red zone again following BG’s second touchdown.
“I think our defense, honestly, has played really good football all year long and given us a chance to be in every football game,” Campbell said. “I think we played some really good offenses early in the season and I think it prepared us tonight to come out and play very fast and very strong and I thought our guys did a great job.”
Detmer drilled a 42-yard field goal with 5:42 left for the final score of the game.
Toledo will play host under the lights of the Glass Bowl again next Saturday Sept. 22 at 7 p.m. when they take on Football Championship Subdivision member Coastal Carolina (2-1).