Senior Rockets running back Jalen Parmele dives into the end zone for the first touchdown of the game last night at the Glass Bowl. Parmele capped the opening 95-yard drive with a 13-yard run.
After three frustrating losses, the first win was not going to come easy.
But the University of Toledo once again conjured up some Glass Bowl magic.
The Rockets mounted a furious fourth-quarter rally against Iowa State, scoring twice in the final five minutes to beat the Cyclones 36-35.
Some of that old black magic was desperately needed. Although the Rockets are 39-5 in the last eight years at their home field, coming into last night they were 4-4.
The second win over a Big 12 Conference team in as many years for the Rockets wasn't over until ISU's kicker Bret Culbertson missed a 38-yard field goal with 11 seconds left.
That figures, UT coach Tom Amstutz said. Not that he minded last night.
"I feel like we've been crawling uphill for weeks," Amstutz said. "Finally something great happened for those players. This game is for them."
The Rockets (1-3) overcame an 11-point deficit with five minutes left. Their special-teams play put them ahead, and their defense held on.
Midway through the fourth, UT had taken what appeared to be a last-chance gamble on fourth down when Brett Kern's punt fake failed. ISU (1-3) had a short field and scored on a 1-yard touchdown run by J.J. Bass with 5:25 to play, going ahead 35-24.
But senior Jalen Parmele, who had carried the Rockets on offense for most of the night, took over elsewhere. Parmele took the Cyclones' kickoff 82 yards for the touchdown, getting UT within a score of the lead.
"Everyone was hitting their blocks and the hole opened up," Parmele said. "I took some patient steps and then I just took off."
A missed two-point conversion brought the Rockets within five. The inspired play on special teams carried over to the defense. Barry Church, who led UT with a career-high 19 tackles, had a second-down tackle. On third down, Walter Atkins sacked ISU quarterback Bret Meyer for a five-yard loss.
Then the next step of what ISU coach Gene Chizik called "a special-teams meltdown" for the Cyclones took flight.
An errant snap was bobbled by ISU punter Mike Brandtner deep in Cyclone territory, and the ball bounced around until senior Greg Hay pounced on it in the end zone for the score. UT took the lead with 3:22 to play.
"I saw the ball on the ground and I wasn't going to let the punter get it," Hay said. "I was just trying to fight and get the ball."
The excitement of being so close to a first win was evident in the celebration, because the Rockets were whistled for excessive celebration. ISU started at its 48 and an upcoming field goal attempt loomed over the defense.
Culbertson had made five field goals in the Cyclones' win over Iowa a week earlier. But this attempt went wide left and low, with some debate whether it was blocked (Amstutz said it wasn't). The Rockets had their first win.
Parmele led UT with 77 yards rushing and two touchdowns, including the kickoff return. Quarterback Aaron Opelt was 19-for-27 for 199 yards. Receiver Stephen Williams had six catches for 113 yards and a score.
Church overcame a confusing call in the third when he thought he had downed a runner to have the most tackles since Tom Ward's 22 stops in 2002.
"I had to become a leader on the field," he said. "I was disappointed with my first three games. I just had to step up."
A few good bounces that hadn't appeared in the first three games arrived last night for the Rockets. Right on time, they said.
"We had a team that battled hard, that worked hard in practice," Amstutz said. "As a coach that's all you can ask. They worked hard on the field, and they deserve to have something good happen to them."