When things looked bleak and desperate and grim, Tom Amstutz was his same old swashbuckling self.
The University of Toledo coach rolled the dice early in the second half of a showdown Tuesday with Bowling Green and came out a winner in dramatic fashion.
The Rockets were trailing 27-7 after having been overwhelmed by the Falcons in the first half. On their opening series of the third quarter, at a time when Toledo really needed to make a statement that the game was not yet over, Amstutz put it all on the line.
Faced with a fourth-and-9 at the BG 37-yard line, Amstutz never even looked at his punter. He sent senior wide receiver Lance Moore on a sprint down the Falcons' sideline, and got quarterback Bruce Gradkowski the time to deliver the ball. Moore got behind the defender, and Gradkowski hit him in stride for the touchdown.
The gamble turned into a jackpot as the Rockets scored five straight touchdowns in the second half to wrest control of the game from their rivals.
UT outscored Bowling Green 42-14 in the second half on its way to a 49-41 win that sends the Rockets into next week's Mid-American Conference championship game as the West Division representative.
"The players know that a lot of times, on fourth down coach Amstutz is going to go for it," Gradkowski said. "That gets guys fired up and really ready to make a play, knowing he has that much confidence in us. We're in four-down territory almost anywhere on the field."
Amstutz said he realized that failing to convert on the play might have put his team in an even deeper hole than it was already fighting to get out of, but he felt the gamble was worth it.
"That was a huge play and a high risk play," he said. "We believed we had to make plays to get back in the game. We took a chance and let our quarterback throw a pass to our best receiver, and our line blocked well and we were able to score."
With the victory, Toledo (8-3, 7-1) wins a share of the West Division championship with Northern Illinois, but the Rockets get the bid to the championship game based on their win over the Huskies a couple of weeks ago. Amstutz has his team in the title game for the third time in his four years as coach of the Rockets.
MAC TITLE GAME TICKETS: Tickets for the 2004 MAC Championship Game are on sale at the UT Savage Hall ticket office. Reserved tickets are $20, and a limited number of tickets for UT students are available for $10 (one ticket per I.D., one I.D. per student).
The Rockets will face Miami, winner of the MAC's East Division, in the MAC title game at Ford Field in Detroit at 7:30 p.m. next Thursday on ESPN.
The ticket office is closed today, open 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. tomorrow, and noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday. The hours next week are 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Wednesday.
Contact Matt Markey at:
or 419-724-6510.40.6694 -111.9431