BOWLING GREEN - So, let's lay it right out there on the table. Too many times this season, University of Toledo receivers have dropped too many passes.
True, Steve Odom? "We hear it from the coaches every day. I can't deny it."
True, Chris Hopkins? "Yeah, that was a big issue for us."
Notice he said "was."
UT's receivers came up big last night at Doyt Perry Stadium.
Odom caught just about everything thrown his way and finished with 10 receptions for a career-
high 146 yards and one touchdown.
Hopkins, a tight end, hauled in four passes, two of them for touchdowns.
The last, a 22-yard, perfectly lofted strike from Bruce Gradkowski in the left corner of the end zone, put a wrap on the game, giving the Rockets a 44-41 victory over Bowling Green.
It was a scintillating finish to a scintillating performance by both teams in the 70th meeting of the northwest Ohio rivals.
But the difference between this performance by the Rockets and that in a stunning loss at home last Wednesday to Northern Illinois, not to mention in some other games, was that Gradkowski's receivers held on to his passes.
He completed 23 of 36 for 298 yards and four touchdowns, two of them coming during the extra sessions.
"That just shows the character of the receivers and everybody else on this team," Gradkowski said. "No matter what has happened. Sure, there have been some plays that weren't made. But the big thing is, every receiver on this team knows they can make them.
"They made all the big ones tonight. They forgot what had happened and put it all together in one of the best games that any of us has played in."
Hopkins, one of three rotating tight ends, had only one touchdown this season entering last night's game, then doubled that against the
"A secret weapon, just the way we planned it," coach Tom Amstutz said, laughing.
"It's just a great feeling," Hopkins said. "I'm just so happy right now. I'd had my share of the drops. I just had to stay focused."
He was just that on the game's final play.
Facing a third-and-seven from the BG 22, Gradkowski ran what he called "a little play-action thing that's been good to us in the past," and BG's defense allowed Hopkins to break free on the left side.
Gradkowski spotted him and lofted the ball perfectly over BG's beaten defenders to Hopkins, who caught it while back-pedaling in the end zone and made sure to get both feet down immediately.
"I got in good position behind the safety and just made sure I caught it," Hopkins said. "I was able to come through for my team and there's no better feeling."
Odom, who became the fourth Rocket receiver in history to surpass 2,000 career yards during the course of the game, called the feeling "one of real relaxation. It's wonderful, awesome, all those kind of words you can find.
"Everything came together on the biggest night of the year. It was the only game that mattered to us. It was our championship game against a rival, it was on national TV, the place was full and both sides were roaring all night.
"Give it up to BG. They played great, too. They fought their tails off, but we're going home with a tremendous win."
BG quarterback Omar Jacobs also had a tremendous night, passing for 315 yards and three touchdowns. He also had a receiver, Charles Sharon, who hauled in 10 passes.
But the UT receiving corps went home a winner, thanks in large part to their stickiest hands of the year.
Josh Powell, another tight end, joined Hopkins with four catches. For him it was a career high and his touchdown reception was his first of the season.
Trinity Dawson caught two passes for 28 yards out of the backfield to go along with a career-best 170 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
"It came down to this: We had to make plays," said Odom. "We had to be focused from start to finish. The O-line blocked, the running backs were tremendous [UT had a total of 284 yards on the ground] and Bruce made good reads.
"And we made the catches. We held on. Everything clicked."
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