TOLEDO, OH – The Toledo Rockets entered Tuesday’s key MAC West match-up against Northern Illinois where they wanted to be. They were undefeated with a national ranking, playing at home in front of an excited fan base and, maybe best of all, relatively healthy.
When key two Huskies players – quarterback Drew Hare and Rocket nemesis Tommylee Lewis -- went down with injuries during the second quarter, Toledo appeared in position to avenge a string of heartbreaking losses to NIU.
It all came crashing down on Toledo, however, as freshman quarterback Ryan Graham stepped in and guided the Huskies to a come-from-behind 32-27 victory.
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Toledo head coach Matt Campbell, meanwhile, felt his squad squandered some opporturnities. “We were undisciplined tonight. That’s the best way to put it. We had multiple opportunities to put them away and others times when we had a chance to execute better when we should have. When you don’t do that against a good team, that’s what gets you beat. You have to tip your hat to NIU.”
Northern Illinois, which lost at Central Michigan earlier this season, is aiming for its sixth straight MAC West title and has now defeated Toledo six straight times. UT has three tough games reamaining -- two on the road (Central Michigan and local rival Bowling Green). It finished the season at home against Western Michigan, which is currently undefeated in MAC play. Northern Illinois meets WMU Nov. 18.
The hosts opened scoring with an 11-yard pass from Phillip Ely to Alonzo Russel, but NIU quickly responded on a 67-yard pass from Hare to the streaking Lewis down the middle.
Kareem Hunt tallied with a six-yard TD run to finish UT’s next possession, and the Rockets added Jameson Vest’s 30-yard field goal to open what proved to be Toledo’s largest lead of the game at 17-7.
Northern Illinois chipped its way back with three straight Christian Hagan Field goals to make it a 17-16 game at the half.
Hunt, who picked up 140 yards on 25 carries, scored his second TD of the night with 4:23 remaining in the third quarter for a 24-16 Toledo lead. Sophomore Terry Swanson added 133 yards on 16 trips as UT totaled 291 yards on the ground.
"“I thought both Terry and Kareem played well. I wasn’t disappointed with either of those two," Campbell said. " Our game plan was to run the football offensively, but our passing game wasn’t where we needed to be -- whether it was dropped passes or protection issues.”
“The defense was giving up some runs in the first half and they got their pads down," Carey said. "We got downhill on them defensively in the second half and that really changed our mindset. Once we did that, we kind of settled down and knew what was coming. We also saw what they had planned for us and that helped keep us in the contest.”
The two teams traded field goals before Kenny Golladay made a diving catch on a seven-yard TD pass from Graham with 9:27 to go. That put NIU within two points at 27-25.
Joel Bouagnon, who led NIU rushers with 87 yards on the night, tallied his only touchdown with just 1:59 left to cap an eight play, 70-yard drive.
Toledo’s final possession ended quickly when Boomer Mays hauled in an interception off the hands of a Toledo receiver. The Huskies ran three plays to close out their win.
Northern Illinois is at Buffalo Wednesday, Nov. 11. Toledo is at Central Michigan Tuesday, Nov. 10.
> For more on Toledo, click HERE
> For more on Northern Illinois, click HERE