Thursday, May 24, 2018
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Rockets in basement after loss to EMU

YPSILANTI, Mich. - University of Toledo coach Tom Amstutz was asked if the word "bizarre" adequately described the last three minutes or so of yesterday's game against Eastern Michigan.

He opted for the word "different."

Not the outcome, mind you. Just the way it happened.

The Rockets saw their losing streak grow to four games - the program's longest since 1993 - with a 17-13 loss to the previously-winless Eagles.

UT dropped to 2-6 and fell into sole possession of the basement in the Mid-American Conference West Division with an 0-4 mark.

Quarterback Clint Cochran came off the bench to rally the Rockets to a pair of fourth-quarter touchdowns, erasing a 9-0 deficit and putting UT ahead 13-9 with 3:17 to play.

What happened thereafter was equal parts bizarre, different, or just plain goofy, with some poor special teams and defensive play by the Rockets contributing to EMU's victory.

Toledo kicker Alex Steigerwald was on the field to add the point after the go-ahead touchdown, but the Eagles were offside and, given a few added inches, Amstutz decided to go for two.

"I was concerned about them blocking the extra point and having a chance to score two points," UT's coach explained.

His fears, from wherever they sprang, were misplaced.

Instead, the Eagles scored the two points when Cochran, dropping to pass on the two-point conversion try, was hit from the blind side by EMU's Kevin Howe and fumbled. Darran Matthews, a junior linebacker, scooped up the ball and ran 87 yards for a two-point play for the Eagles.

"I've seen more extra points [kicks] blocked and returned than I've seen that type of thing happen," Amstutz said. "The thought was to get up by six [points]. Obviously, we didn't take care of the football and they made a good play, getting good pressure off the corner, and scooped up the ball. But they still weren't in the end zone. We still had a chance to play defense. But they made the plays and we didn't."

True. Leading 13-11 after EMU's two-point return, Toledo kicked off to Trumaine Riley, the Eagles' all-time return yardage leader, and he added 45 yards to his total, allowing Eastern to start at its 46-yard line.

Tailback Pierre Walker started the drive with a 12-yard gain after bouncing off a pile behind the line of scrimmage, and he ended it four plays later with an 18-yard spurt to the outside at the 0:36 mark. EMU also tried a two-point conversion and it failed, but the Eagles had the points they needed for the victory.

"We just didn't stop them, we didn't get the job done," said UT free safety Tyrrell Herbert, who gave the Rockets their first spark of the day with an interception on the last play of the third quarter.

The Eagles (1-6, 1-3 MAC) led 9-0 at halftime on three Andrew Wellock field goals. It could have been worse if not for a goal-line stand by the Rockets in the second quarter. They choked EMU on four plays inside the 5-yard line with linebackers Greg Hay and Keith Forestal combining to stop quarterback Andy Schmitt an inch or two short of the end zone on a fourth-down play.

EMU was poised to go ahead by either 12 or 16 points with another first-and-goal at the UT 5 late in the third quarter. But Herbert stepped in front of a pass at the goal line and returned the interception 45 yards.

Cochran then made his first appearance of the day, completed three passes and handed off to Jalen Parmele, who picked up a convoy of blockers for a 14-yard score with 11:41 to play. Steigerwald added the extra point without incident.

A holding penalty erased a 17-yard Richard Davis touchdown run on UT's next possession and Steigerwald missed a 30-yard field goal.

But EMU was flagged for a personal foul on the play, giving the Rockets new life at the Eagles 6-yard line. On third down, Cochran rolled right and threw back to the left to a wide open tight end, Josh Powell, for the TD that put Toledo ahead.

Amstutz was correct in saying the ensuing two-point conversion snafu did not cost UT the game. But Matthews' return of Cochran's fumble did give the Eagles some momentum. Four of the five plays on the winning drive went for 12, 13, 17 and 18 yards.

"It was heart-breaking to come so close, to be on such a high after getting the lead, and then going down like that," Cochran said.

Contact Dave Hackenberg at: or 419-724-6398.

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