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Published: Saturday, 9/7/2002

Early MAC game challenges Toledo


The University of Toledo begins defense of its Mid-American Conference championship tonight at 6 against Eastern Michigan at Rynearson Stadium in Ypsilanti.

It's the earliest conference opener for the Rockets since 1989, when they spanked Ohio 27-18 in their first game.

“Eastern Michigan is a big game for us because it's a league game and a divisional opponent,” UT coach Tom Amstutz said. “It puts pressure on us to play well.”

Toledo and EMU play in the MAC's West Division. However, for the first time in history, all eight conference games will count in the overall standings.

Toledo is 11-2 since Amstutz replaced Gary Pinkel as coach before last season, and the Rockets are 21-3 since the start of the 2000 season - the fourth-best record in Division I-A.

“When a team loses 23 seniors like Toledo did, you'd expect there to be some drop-off, but I haven't seen it,” EMU coach Jeff Woodruff said.

Toledo opened the season with a 44-16 victory over Cal Poly on Aug. 29; two days later Eastern was trounced 56-7 by 15th ranked Michigan State. EMU's defense yielded 625 yards and 31 first downs and the Eagles' offense had eight three-and-out series.

Woodruff also employed two quarterbacks against the Spartans. Starter Troy Edwards was 18-for-41 for 133 yards. Backup Jeff Crooks, who started a few games last year, was 5-for-8 for 54 yards.

“I expect them to be very emotional and to play a good game,” Amstutz said. “I think they'll be fired up to play at a high level against us.”

UT leads the series 19-10 and has won the last two meetings between the schools.

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