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Published: Friday, 10/26/2001

Rockets' kick teams not special thus far

BY RON MUSSELMAN
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Kicker Todd France won't soon forget the 100-yard return that cost the University of Toledo its first loss last week at Ball State.

“To my way of thinking, they shouldn't have had a runback for a touchdown,” said France, a senior from Springfield High School.

“I should have kicked the ball into the end zone for a touchback. I didn't hit the ball as well as I should have.”

Ball State's Corey Parchman fielded the ball at the goal line, ran over UT's Adam Tedora at the 40, then spun outside and scampered untouched down the left sideline for the winning touchdown with 3:07 remaining.

“It's just an awful feeling, knowing that play beat us,” France said.

Actually, that wasn't the only special teams blunder that helped snap UT's 12-game winning streak. It was just one of many.

Sophomore Brandon Hannum had a punt blocked, his third of the season, along with a few deflections. Ball State converted the turnover into a touchdown. Hannum later got off a career-long 70-yard punt, but once again, Chris Tuminello delivered a few bad snaps.

Punt returner Donta Greene called for a fair catch, then watched as the ball bounced off his knee and into the arms of Ball State's Charles Avant. And France missed his first field goal of the season, a 37-yarder.

That's why coach Tom Amstutz has made wholesale changes on his special teams for tomorrow night's non-conference game against Navy at the Glass Bowl (7 p.m., 1370 AM).

The Rockets are 5-1 after suffering their first Mid-American Conference West Division loss; the Midshipmen 0-6.

“We have re-evaluated our personnel and we've made some adjustments,” Amstutz said. “Some of our starters are going to have to do more than just play offense and defense this week - whatever it takes to win.

“The mistakes have been building up. We've been addressing it with our players and doing extra work on it. We believe we can correct them.”

France is the third-leading scorer in UT history. He has accumulated 290 points, 14 fewer than tailback Chester Taylor and eight fewer than former kicker Rusty Hanna.

France is first in the Mid-American Conference in scoring among kickers, averaging 8.3 points per game, and second in field goals (1.33 average). He is tied for second in field-goal percentage at 88.9 percent (8-for-9) and has made 26 of 27 extra points.

“I haven't had as many scoring opportunities as in the past,” said France, who has scored 50 points. “Our offense really was scoring so much the first month or so they really didn't need me.”

A year ago, France was named first-team All-MAC after setting the school record for points (94) in a season by a kicker.

He hit 15 of 19 field goals and made all 49 extra points, also a UT record.

He also was a second-team academic All-American last year with a 3.968 grade-point average in mechanical engineering.

France is closing in on the MAC record for most career points by a kicker. He needs 18 more to pass Western Michigan's Brad Selent, who scored 307 from 1997-2000.

France is UT's all-time career leader in extra points (135 of 137) and he ranks second in school history in field goals (52) and attempts (73).

“Records don't concern me too much,” said France, a preseason candidate for the Lou Groza Award, which goes to the nation's top kicker. “I just want the team to win.”

UT must get a better effort from its special teams in order to do that. Greene ranks fourth in the MAC in punt returns (10.5-yard average), but Toledo ranks 73rd in the country overall (8.2).

The Rockets are 85th in kickoff returns (18.5) and Hannum is 92nd in net punting (32.9).

“It isn't just me, it isn't just Brandon, it's everybody,” France said.

“Since I've been here, we haven't had this many bad snaps, blocked punts or missed field goals.”

UT does not have a full-time special teams coach and Amstutz has no plans to appoint one or hire one. He will continue to split the duties between himself and his assistant coaches.

“It's the same way we have done it around here for 20 years and we'll continue to do it that way,” he said.

QUICK HITS: Taylor ran with the No. 1 offense in practice yesterday. And for the first time since spraining his right ankle three weeks ago, he was not limping. Amstutz plans to start Taylor against Navy tomorrow night. “Chester's running better and he's getting closer to being fully healthy,” he said. Taylor has managed just 47 yards on 21 carries in the last four-plus quarters. ... Backup tailbacks Antwon McCray and Webster Jackson (Central Catholic) also took a few snaps with the No. 1 offense. ... Senior defensive end Leo Frierson will play “about a quarter,” Amstutz said. Frierson (Fostoria) has missed the past four games with a fractured tibia.



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