The University of Toledo football team sleepwalked through the first half yesterday.
The snooze alarm must have tripped off at halftime, because the Rock-ets woke up.
Toledo exploded for 28 points in the second half, and running back Chester Taylor gained 121 of his 161 yards and scored one touchdown, as the Rockets won their sixth consecutive game, beating Ball State 31-3 before 18,916 fans at the Glass Bowl.
“We've got to get more enthusiasm to open a game,” UT quarterback Tavares Bolden said. “We didn't have that and it showed. It was really embarrassing.”
Despite their sluggish start, the Rockets (9-1, 4-1 MAC West) still managed to clinch at least a share of the division title. That's because Western Michigan lost at Central Michigan 21-17. The Broncos (8-2, 3-1 MAC West) are 0-11-1 and haven't won there since 1973.
Western Michigan, though, needs only to beat Eastern Michigan at home Saturday to clinch a spot in the MAC championship game Dec. 2 in Huntington, W.Va.
Taylor and Bolden found little solace in sharing the West Division title with Western Michigan, which beat the Rockets 21-14 in September.
“We put ourselves in this position,” Taylor said. “If we had beaten Western like we were supposed to, we wouldn't have to worry about all of this.”
Said Bolden: “(Western) losing two games in a row is not likely. They're a pretty good team.”
The Rockets, playing at home for the first time in a month, had been a very good offensive team - until yesterday. Statistically, they had their worst half of the season, managing just 128 yards total offense - 27 passing - and five first downs.
Their only points came on a 32-yard field goal by Todd France with 9:26 left in the first quarter.
Ball State, which had 181 yards and controlled the ball 20:16 to Toledo's 9:44 in the first half, evened the score on Thomas Pucke's 22-yard field goal early in the second quarter.
“We were pretty upset with our performance,” said UT receiver Mel Long, who was shut out in the first half. “We knew we could play better than that. We knew we could execute better than that. And it just wasn't happening.”
Three plays into the second half, that all changed.
Bolden hit H-back Donta Greene with a pass over the middle on third-and-16 from the Toledo 22. After making the reception, Greene broke at least four tackles for a gain of 22 and a first down.
Five plays later, third-string tailback William Bratton scored on a five-yard run, giving Toledo - a 311/2-point favorite - a 10-3 lead.
“I think the key third-down play to Donta Greene ignited our football team,” UT coach Gary Pinkel said.
Meanwhile, Ball State self-destructed. The Cardinals (4-6, 2-3 MAC West) lost two interceptions, missed a field goal and botched a snap on another on their next four possessions.
The Rockets scored touchdowns after three of those miscues. Long caught a 25-yard scoring pass from Bolden and then Taylor scored on a 34-yard run in the third quarter. Long closed out the scoring with another an eight-yard TD catch in the fourth quarter.
Toledo got second-half interceptions from cornerback Jehu Anderson and defensive tackle David Bockmore, and pitched a shutout in the second half for the sixth consecutive game.
“We self-destructed, but I am going to give credit to Toledo,” Ball State coach Bill Lynch said. “I think they're a great football team.”
Taylor had 81 of his rushing yards on nine carries in the third quarter and finished with his eighth 100-plus yard game of the season; the 16th of his career.
He had just 16 rushes, averaging 10.1 yards per carry.
“The big thing with Chester is you have to get a crease for him,” Pinkel said. “And I just thought we got more creases and the guys on the offensive line cranked it up in the second half.”