BOWLING GREEN - In the shootout University of Toledo and Bowling Green State University fans are now accustomed to, the Rockets came out on top.
UT won 44-41 in double overtime last night, keeping its Mid-American Conference title hopes alive. The winning score came when UT quarterback Bruce Gradkowski found junior tight end Chris Hopkins for a 22-yard touchdown.
The Rockets (8-3, 6-2 MAC) need Western Michigan to beat Northern Illinois today to clinch the MAC West Division and play in the MAC Championship game on Dec. 1. But an 8-3 record also gives them a good chance for a bowl bid no matter what.
BGSU is still in the MAC East race. If Western Michigan wins today or Kent State beats Akron tomorrow the Falcons win the East.
After getting the ball first in the first overtime, the Rockets got it last in the second overtime. UT set up its score by holding BGSU to a field goal.
"I knew if we could just get one stop, I really believed we would keep on scoring," UT coach Tom Amstutz said.
It was the first time in eight years the road team has won this rivalry. BGSU and UT got to overtime by each scoring 24 points after halftime.
UT sent the game into overtime when Hopkins hauled in his first touchdown catch of the game with 1:43 left in regulation. The Falcons had taken the lead with eight minutes left when quarterback Omar Jacobs connected with Charles Sharon for an 11-yard reception.
In the first overtime BGSU won the toss and elected to defend. UT took three plays to score, ending with a two-yard run by Trinity Dawson. Dawson had 170 yards on 28 carries.
In front of 17,483 at Perry Stadium, the Falcons tied the game at 38 with Jacobs finding senior Steve Sanders for his second touchdown catch of the game, a 25-yarder with two defenders on Sanders.
The Falcons (6-5, 5-3) were on offense first in the second overtime. They couldn't get a first down and senior Joe Timchenko made a 37-yard field goal, his second of the game, to put the Falcons ahead 41-38.
The game-winning score came on third-and-7 when Gradkowski rolled out and passed to Hopkins in the left corner of the end zone. Hopkins' two touchdowns were his second and third of the season.
"That's been a great play for us all year," Gradkowski said. "The way the tight ends have been coming through all year and tonight, give them a chance."
Said BGSU coach Gregg Brandon: "They made one last play. That's all it was."
During the first half, cars snaked down I-75 in a near-standstill. The Falcons scored first and the Rockets scored just before the half to go to intermission in a 7-7 tie. But in the second half both teams' offenses started clicking. Gradkowski completed 23 of 26 passes for 298 yards and four touchdowns, and Jacobs was 25-of-43 for 315 yards and three touchdowns.
In the third quarter UT kicked a field goal, followed by a BGSU touchdown, followed by a Rocket touchdown, followed by a BGSU field goal, followed by a UT touchdown.
BGSU scored two quick touchdowns in the fourth quarter before UT held the ball for most of the period and recorded Hopkins' first score.
"I thought both defenses were getting tired - that's what showed up in the fourth quarter," BGSU coach Gregg Brandon said.
Both teams had 100-yard rushers and 100-yard receivers. In addition to Dawson, P.J. Pope had 131 yards rushing for the Falcons. UT receiver Steve Odom had 146 yards receiving and Sharon had 106 yards.
The Falcons wore brown jerseys for the first time since 1997 to get some inspiration from past MAC Championship teams.
"There's nothing to be ashamed of. I'm proud of my team," Brandon said. "We just didn't get it done tonight."
The Rockets overcame a devastating loss to Northern Illinois last week to persevere and stay in the title race.
"We didn't give up after last week," Gradkowski said. "We're focused on now, and the future."
Said Amstutz: "As a staff we burned up the [NIU] film and did not watch it. We did extra things to help our players mentally to play one more special game. The seniors have done everything we have asked from them as a program."
Brandon said something that both sides agreed with.
"It was a great college football game," Brandon said. "You can't ask for anything better. Great crowd, great intensity on both sides, that's what you play for."
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