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Published: Monday, 11/24/2003

Rockets focus finally on BG

BY MATT MARKEY
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Toledo-Bowling Green football game has been out there lurking in the distance for months. Everybody knew it was coming, but nobody wanted to talk about it.

Now, they can talk.

It is the worst-kept secret in the world that this is an often contentious rivalry, but the players and coaches stridently resist mentioning it until all the rest of the games have been played. Now it is here, and it is pretty much winner-take-all.

“I think right now we re really excited that we can finally just focus on this championship game, UT quarterback Bruce Gradkowski said. “This is what we looked forward to all year.

This is the first start against the Falcons for Gradkowski, a sophomore, but he is well-schooled in the significance of the rivalry.

“It s BG-Toledo. We re definitely going to be hyped and ready to go, Gradkowski said. “If someone isn t ready to go, I couldn t tell you why not, because this is a big game - the biggest game all year - probably the biggest game of my life.

Toledo (8-3, 6-1) meets the No. 25 Falcons (9-2, 6-1) with the outright title in the Mid-American Conference s West Division going to the winner, as well as the right to play host to the league s championship game on Dec. 4 against East champ Miami. And a bowl bid could also be hanging in the balance.

“It is just exciting, tailback Trinity Dawson said. “This is for all of the marbles. We worked real hard to get to this point. We ve got this last one right here, and I m sure everybody will be ready to go.

UT head coach Tom Amstutz repeatedly cautioned his team about looking ahead on the schedule, especially after the Rockets lost a MAC game at Ball State last month. For the Bowling Green game to mean the most, he told them, they would have to win the rest of their games and still be in the title picture.

They won them, and they are.

“There s only one thing to look at now - and that s our last game, Amstutz said. “We re going to put our best effort on that field and let it all fly, and then see what happens.

Gradkowski said the Rockets treated every game as a must-win situation, and they come into Bowling Green s Perry Stadium on Saturday riding a three-game win streak.

“It s exciting, because we fought hard to get to this point, he said. “We came away with some tough, tough wins. Now we finally get to look forward to BG. It s going to be a great game out there, and a great atmosphere.

Amstutz has had a peek or two at the Falcons on film as he prepared for other opponents, and he respects what they ve done to reach this championship game.

“I know they re a nationally-ranked team, and I know they re a very gifted football team and they have outstanding personnel, and we re going to their field to play, he said. “We have a great challenge in front of us, but it s also a great opportunity. We re excited to be in this position, and we re going to go over there and lay it all on the line.

Gradkowski, who got roughed up a time or two in Toledo s win over Western Michigan Saturday night, wouldn t miss it.

“I m a little sore, but it s nothing. Nothing could keep me out of this game.



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