BOWLING GREEN — It would be hard to top Saturday’s Toledo-Bowling Green football game for sheer drama and excitement, but the celebration in the corner of Doyt Perry Stadium came close. As the Rockets proved, nothing beats a rivalry win and, just maybe, nothing is better than doing it on the road.
The players, the cheerleaders, the band, the fans from up I-75 cheered and chanted, swayed to the alma mater, sang and jumped and danced to the fight song. Seniors posed in a group, holding up four fingers, and UT fans all know what that means. The Rockets’ 28-25 thriller was their fourth straight in the series. A class never tasted defeat.
In the back of the group, coach Matt Campbell sought out one person, his quarterback, and when they met it was a long and manly hug. And then Campbell put a hand on each side of Terrance Owens’ face and pulled him close.
“I’m so proud of you,” the coach said. “That’s why you go through everything. This is why you stay the course.”
It hasn’t been easy in 2013. The Rockets were 0-2 and then 2-3 with an early MAC loss, and if Owens was listening, which he insists he was not, he might have heard people blaming him.
He wasn’t the same quarterback who stepped in to throw 13 touchdowns and just five interceptions as a freshman, or the same guy who was sixth in the nation in passing efficiency a year later and completed 19 of 24 passes, three for touchdowns, in a bowl win, or even the passer who last season went 277 attempts without a pick.
Different year, different guy, it seemed. It probably wasn’t fair. The Rockets are a product of their schedule. So too was Terrance Owens.
“T.O. took some heat, some of it deserved maybe,” Campbell said. “He never wavered.”
On Saturday, in the biggest game on every year’s schedule, T.O. stepped up and rescued UT’s 2013 season. BG had scored 25 unanswered points to take a four-point lead. One tick under six minutes remained. The Rockets and all their goals were about to go down the tubes. Owens would not and did not let it happen.
“Tough hombre,” Campbell said.
Toledo won with a 10-play, 70-yard drive. It was jump-started by a 32-yard Owens pass to Bernard Reedy. It ended with two plays that Rocket fans won’t soon forget.
A penalty saddled UT with a third-and-26 situation and there aren’t many X’s and O’s for third-and-26. BG opted to rush only three and Owens, with no receivers open, started to run, found a crease, went one way, cut another, and picked up 17 yards. Now, it’s fourth-and-9 from the 11, 1:28 on the clock.
Alonzo Russell, who four plays earlier had landed on his noggin after a first-down catch and been knocked half daffy — “I threw cold water on my face, shook it off, and went back in,” he said — ran an option route, read the safety, and took the inside route. At the exact instant he made his move, cutting hard left, Owens fired a dart and Russell got there, just over the goal-line, and the Rockets had the lead.
Soon, Campbell and Owens were embracing.
“I remember recruiting T.O. in high school at [Cleveland] Glenville and they were playing St. Ignatius, the way he battled,” Campbell said. “He got whacked. He got back up. It’s his makeup. You saw it today. He’s such a tough kid.”
Funny story. Campbell was an assistant at Bowling Green back then. Owens was going there too. Then the BG staff was fired, Campbell landed 25 miles up the road at UT, and so did Owens. Four straight wins over the Falcons later …
“I’m a senior leader,” Owens said. “It’s my job, what’s expected of me, to lift my team up and lead it to a victory. But it’s a team thing, a team victory. At the end of the day, somebody has to make a play and Alonzo Russell made a play.”
Well, yes, but so did T.O., a bunch of them on the final drive, a bunch more earlier when UT raced to a 21-0 lead.
“Yeah, well, I give credit to my guys, my receivers. It’s all about execution. We execute, we look good. We don’t, we don’t. It’s pretty simple.”
Simple, yes. But the criticism had to sting and Saturday had to be so sweet.
“What people say about him, about any of us, doesn’t matter,” Russell said. “We’re a family and what we believe in our locker room is all that matters. We all have confidence in T.O. He knows that. He’s a winner.”
We’ve all been reminded.
Contact Blade sports columnist Dave Hackenberg at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6398.