University of Toledo football players are surrounded by Rocket fans in a celebratory mood after UT defeated a top-10 ranked team for the first time.
When you knock off one of the Top 10 teams in the country, and do it in dramatic fashion, and set a whole bunch of records in the process, you have to expect a little buzz to ensue.
But when the University of Toledo upended No. 9 Pittsburgh in the Glass Bowl Saturday night, it started a real commotion in the college football ranks.
ESPN and the other national media outlets were scrambling to get highlights and information on the Rockets, and to put UT head coach Tom Amstutz on the air. The folks who vote in the two major polls that rank college football teams suddenly had to find a place for Toledo on their ballot. They were rustling papers in the soon-to-be smoke-filled rooms where the bowl selection committees meet.
“It's been pretty crazy around here,” Amstutz said yesterday as his team prepared for practice the day after the historic win. “There have been lots of phone calls, interviews, and a lot of activity relating to that great football victory for Toledo. There are all of these things we have to deal with today – and it's a little overwhelming. It's not much different than a hangover.”
The euphoria that filled the Glass Bowl following the win over Pitt was more than a bit intoxicating. Toledo had never defeated a Top 10 team, and Pitt had never lost to a team from the Mid-American Conference.
Pitt was up 31-21 and had the ball at the Rockets' 41 with 11:32 left in the game. Pittsburgh went for the kill, but Toledo's Antonio Malone intercepted a pass at the Rockets' two yard line.
Sophomore quarterback Bruce Gradkowski drove UT 98 yards in 12 plays for a touchdown, converting two third-down plays and one fourth-down play on the way. After Trinity Dawson scored with under seven minutes left, the Rockets trailed 31-28.
“When we were down by 10, there wasn't a guy on our sideline who was ready to quit,” Gradkowski said.
“There was just a feeling of confidence – we knew we could do it. The defense went out and held them, we got the ball back, and what happened after that was just like we dreamed it.”
UT got the ball at its own 17 following a Pitt punt with 4:36 left in the game. Gradkowski spread the ball around and used four different receivers as the Rockets drove to Pitt's 9, and he lobbed the winning touchdown pass to Lance Moore with only 43 seconds left.
“All that was going through my mind was to keep believing that something good was going to happen,” UT senior defensive end Frank Ofili said. “When it was finally over and it hit me that we had just beaten a top 10 team, I just dropped to the ground and laid there. It's an amazing, incredible feeling.”
Gradkowski, who grew up in Pittsburgh just minutes from the Pitt campus, threw the ball a school record 62 times, completing a MAC record 49 passes for 461 yards – another UT record. He said the fact those marks fell on such a historic night for the Rocket football program means more than the numbers ever will.
“Beating a top 10 team in front of a huge home crowd - that experience, that kind of feeling - those are the things you play for and work for,” Gradkowski said. “We went into that game playing to win and expecting to win. Every guy knew what he had to do, and went out on every play focused on only that. one of our players battled hard the entire game. If you believe in yourself there is no telling what can happen.”
Amstutz, who has now led Toledo to come-from-behind wins in five of its last seven victories, said that when the sun came up yesterday morning, although he was still dealing with the considerable aftermath of the win over Pittsburgh, it was time to turn the page and figure out how to slay the next beast.
“The fact that we followed our game plan all night and beat a great team like Pittsburgh - and the way we won it – it all leaves you a little numb,” Amstutz said. “But we knew when we got up this morning that it was time to go to work on Syracuse. The Pitt game was fantastic for this program in a lot of ways, and we celebrated and enjoyed it after the game, but you don't dwell on it too long.”
Moore, who finished with a school-record 15 receptions for 162 yards, said he feels like the win over Pitt will continue to pay dividends for Toledo.
“Getting a win like this is the greatest thing that can happen,” Moore said. “I can't explain how huge it is for our program. It shows that we are on the right path and we are getting better every week. We play football in championship situations and we are able to overcome adversity and we prevailed. This tells a lot about Toledo, our staff and our players, and shows that we will never give up."