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Rockets Prevail with Narrow 42-41 Victory in 2011 Military Bowl

Courtesy: Toledo Athletics
Release: 12/28/2011
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Courtesy: Associated Press
The Rockets celebrate with the 2011 Military Bowl Trophy.

Washington, D.C. - Toledo used its powerful offense and a bend-but-don't-break defense to capture an exciting 42-41 victory over Air Force in the Military Bowl, in a game that came down to the final minute. The Rockets (9-4) never trailed in a see-saw affair in which there were three ties and the largest point margin was 14 points.

With 52 seconds left in the game, Air Force scored what appeared to be the game-tying touchdown when Falcons receiver Jonathan Warzeka caught a wide open 33-yard pass from quarterback Tim Jefferson.

Air Force (7-6) lined up in a traditional extra-point formation but opted to go for two points on a trick play. Holder David Baska took the snap and headed for the end zone, but sophomore defensive end Jayrone Elliott stripped the ball loose from Baska. The ball bounced in the direction of Parker Herrington, who tried to scoop up the loose ball but ending up kicking it out of the end zone leaving the Rockets with a 42-41 advantage and their first bowl victory since 2005.

The victory was a great vindication for a Rocket team that had survived numerous injuries this season--including three key injuries to its defense in this game. It was also a dramatic debut for head coach Matt Campbell, the Rockets' offensive coordinator who was named head coach just 16 days previously after Tim Beckman left to take the helm at Illinois. Campbell, at 32 the youngest head coach in the NCAA-FBS, coached the game from the coaches box, but managed to get down on the field in time to get a post-game Gatorade shower from the players.

The game itself was as expected--two powerful but different offenses exchanging blows throughout the game. What was unexpected for Toledo was the hero--sophomore wide receiver Bernard Reedy. Reedy caught a career-best three touchdown passes of 17, 49 and 37 yards, and was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

Toledo's offensive stars had a big role in the victory, too. Junior Eric Page caught 13 passes, giving him 306 for his career and moving him into a three-way for first place on the all-time Mid-American Conference career receptions leaders list. The mark is shared by Josh Davis, a receiver at Marshall from 2001-04, and Jordan White, a senior at Western Michigan.

Senior running back Adonis Thomas led UT in rushing, breaking the 1,000-yard mark for the second-straight season, as he toted the ball 22 times for 108 yards and a touchdown. It is the fifth-straight game that Thomas has topped the 100-yard ledger.

Sophomore Terrance Owens went most of the way at quarterback, completing 19-of-24 passes for 210 yards and three TDs, all to Reedy.

The Rockets' defense was led by junior linebacker Dan Molls, who had a game-high 12 tackles but left the game in the second half with a concussion. Both of Toledo starting defensive tackles--Johnathan Lamb and Johnnie Roberts--were injured on the same play in the first half. But the rest of the defense stepped up, most notably junior safety Jermaine Robinson, whose athletic 37-yard interceptiion return for a touchdown gave Toledo a 35-28 lead midway through the third quarter.

The Falcons tied the score at 35-35 moments later with a short 50-yard drive capped by a two-yard run by Mike DeWitt. The score stayed knotted until Reedy scored his third TD of the game. Reedy caught a short pass from Owens on the left side, spun off a defender and cut back to the middle of the field to give the Rockets the 42-35 lead with 5:01 left in regulation.

Air Force came back and almost used up the entire clock in its final drive before scoring with 52 seconds left. After Air Force was foiled on its two-point conversion attempt, Eric Page recovered the ensuing on-side kick and Toledo ran out the clock.

The excitment of the conclusion of the game was preceeded by a first-half explosion of scoring. The Rockets jumped out to a 14-0 lead over the Falcons in a span of 16 seconds. The first score of the game came on a 17-yard pass from Owens to Reedy on their second possession of the game. On the ensuing kickoff, Desmond Marrow forced a fumble by Air Force's Cody Getz that was recovered by Junior Sylvestre. On the first play of the next possession, Thomas took the handoff from Austin Dantin and scampered 41 yards to pay dirt.

Air Force scored its first points of the game off a 22-yard run by Jefferson with 2:29 left in the first quarter, making it 14-7.

Page quickly widened Toledo's lead back to 14 points, returning the next kickoff 87-yards for a touchdown to give UT a 21-7 lead. It was his first kick-off return for a score this season, following a 2010 campaign in which he earned All-American honors as the only player in the country to return three for touchdowns.

Air Force didn't waste much time either, as running back Mike DeWitt punched it in from three yards out on the next drive, following a 60-yard dash around the edge by wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka. The score cut the Toledo lead to 21-14.

Air Force tied the game at 21-21 with 9:43 remaining in the second quarter. Asher Clark took a pitch wide to the right side to convert from one yard out on fourth down.

Toledo regained a 28-21 advantage at the 7:49 mark of the second quarter, when Owens connected with Reedy for the second time of the day, this time a 49-yard touchdown pitch-and-catch.

The Falcons tied the score 28-28 with 2:07 remaining in the second quarter, when Jefferson connected with Warzeka on a 37-yard touchdown completion on fourth down.

 

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