The University of Toledo's defense had a battle cry leading up to last night's game against Eastern Michigan.
"We labeled it the Big Payback," said linebacker Mike Alston.
And did the Rockets get it?
"Yeah, we played Toledo defense tonight," Alston said.
That's as good an explanation as any for UT's 30-3 victory over the Eagles before 25,266 fans at the Glass Bowl.
A year ago, EMU racked up 538 total yards, 34 first downs and 32 points against UT's defense. The Rockets won the game, but those numbers stuck in Toledo's defensive craw.
Now, that same defensive unit can instead enjoy the '3' that appeared under 'EMU' on the scoreboard.
This time, the Eagles were held to 291 total yards while suffering their first Mid-American Conference loss.
The outcome left UT, 4-1 overall, as the only MAC West Division team without a conference loss. The Rockets are 2-0 in league play.
"We remembered all those yards they got on us," said Alston, who tied a career high last night with two sacks. He had a total of three tackles for losses and was in on seven tackles.
The Eagles did have a dominant offensive stretch and gained more than half of their total yards - 148 to be exact - during the second quarter. But two long drives resulted in no more damage than two field goal attempts and one of them went awry after a high snap from center.
"They came to play," linebacker David Thomas said of the Eagles, "and there are going to be ups and downs in any game. But when we had our backs to the wall, everybody did the job and made plays. To go through that stretch and hold them to just three points was huge. It definitely turned the momentum."
Operating behind backup quarterback Tyler Jones while starter Matt Bohnet missed the second quarter due to a leg contusion, the Eagles ran 32 plays and kept the UT offense simmering on the sideline.
In the end, though, the Toledo defense made sure it was the Rockets who were still contenders and exposed EMU (3-3, 2-1) as a pretender.
UT ran up 456 yards of offense, 295 coming on the ground behind Trinity Dawson's 24 carries for 159 yards.
There's no telling what the final score would have been if not for UT receivers dropping three passes in the end zone.
"It was definitely aggravating," said quarterback Bruce Gradkowski, who deserved better than a 15-of-26 night that produced 160 yards through the air. "But our receivers work hard and they were getting open and we'll correct all the dropped balls. I'm not worried about that. We got the win, and that's far more important."
The Rockets started fast and threatened to turn the game into an early rout.
UT used 12 plays to move 67 yards on the game's first possession with a sharp Gradkowski throwing to five receivers - he would complete passes to nine different targets by the end of the game - before turning the heavy lifting over to Dawson, who scored on a three-yard run.
Toledo then drove from its own 3 to the Eastern 15 before Jason Robbins kicked a 35-yard field goal that made it 10-0 with 5:30 remaining in the first quarter.
But UT would have only one other possession before halftime - it resulted in a 34-yard field goal by Robbins - as Eastern put together a couple time-consuming drives.
However, while the Eagles racked up plenty of yards, they didn't rack up many points and the Rockets pulled away in the second half behind touchdown runs by Jalen Parmele and Quinton Broussard.
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