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Published: Saturday, 9/19/2009

Opelt leads University of Toledo's rout of Colorado

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The Mid-American Conference quarterback derby just got another entry.

Showing some incredible athleticism and shocking playmaking abilities, University of Toledo quarterback Aaron Opelt threw for 319 yards and four touchdowns while also rushing for 109 yards and two touchdowns in a 54-38 win over Colorado at the Glass Bowl Friday night in front of 20,082.

The victory was the first as a head coach for Tim Beckman and snapped a two-game skid in home-openers for the Rockets.

“I think this gets our players to start to believe a little bit” Beckman said. “All the hard work that we put them through – that's exactly what I said to the guys downstairs [in the locker room] – it's going to pay off.”

Often left unmentioned among the best signal callers in the conference, Opelt has proved he belongs just two games into his senior season. He finished 15-of-23 passing against the Buffaloes (0-2), a week after completing 41 of 67 passes for 423 yards in the season-opener at Purdue.

“I was pleased with the way I played,” Opelt said. “Like I said from Day One, we have playmakers. It's easy for me to get the ball to them and watch them make plays.”

After the Rockets' defense forced a Colorado punt to start the game, Opelt found freshman wide receiver Eric Page streaking down the right seam on UT's sixth play from scrimmage for a 60-yard connection. Page couldn't break free from Colorado safety Patrick Mahnke and was brought down at the Buffs' 14-yard line.

Two plays later, Opelt found tight end Danny Noble in the end zone for an 8-yard touchdown pass with 7:18 left in the first quarter to cap an eight-play, 84-yard scoring drive that took 3:15 off the clock.

The score would stay at 6-0, however, after the Rockets (1-1) failed on their two-point conversion attempt. Holder Bill Claus took the snap and immediately rolled to his right and lofted a pass that fell incomplete.

It didn't take long for the Rockets to make amends, though. Following another Colorado punt, Opelt connected with Page again and this time, the Springfield graduate would not be denied entrance to the end zone.

After two straight run plays to start the drive – the second giving UT a first down on DaJuane Collins' 15-yard rush around the right end – the Rockets opted to take another shot downfield with Page.

Running a slant route over the middle, Page hauled in Opelt's pass at midfield, cut back to the left sideline to evade a Colorado defender and scampered all the way to pay dirt. The 70-yard connection put the Rockets ahead 13-0 after Alex Steigerwald's PAT with 3:00 left in the quarter.

The Buffaloes answered with a 32-yard field goal from Aric Goodman from the right hash on the ensuing drive. Running back Darrell Scott's 32-yard rush through a big hole put Colorado into UT territory, and the junior kicker capped off the eight-play, 56-yard drive with 13:31 remaining in the second quarter.

UT matched the Buffs' field goal on its next drive when Alex Steigerwald converted a career-long 50-yarder for a 16-3 lead with 9:59 left in the half.

And just as it appeared the Rockets would take a comfortable 13-point lead into the locker room, UT defensive tackle Derrick Summers broke into the Colorado backfield and sacked quarterback Cody Hawkins, who fumbled the ball before hitting the deck.

Freshman safety Jermaine Robinson came up with the loose ball on the Buffs' 38-yard line, giving the Rockets prime field possession with 1:32 left in the half.

Unable to get much going, Opelt broke off a 27-yard touchdown run on the sixth play of the drive to give the Rockets a 23-3 with 36 seconds left before halftime. The play originally looked like it would be a bubble screen to the left to Page, but that proved to be just a decoy. Opelt instead tucked the ball away and sprinted up the middle before cutting back to right and diving across the goal line.

Opelt proved he wasn't done with his magical night, as the Rockets tacked on seven more points on their first drive of the second half. The Fremont Ross product hit wide receiver Kenny Stafford, who was wide open over the middle in the end zone, for a 26-yard reception 2:24 into the third quarter.

Opelt later lofted his fourth touchdown pass of the night -- a 23-yarder to tight end Tom Burzine for his first career score with 4:51 left in the quarter for a 37-10 advantage.

But the four-year starter left the best for last.

After Colorado seized some momentum with two quick scores to end the third quarter that closed the gap to 37-24, Opelt raced 61 yards down the field on the first play of the fourth quarter to put the game out of reach at 44-24.

With the middle of the field wide open, Opelt took a snap from center and darted right up the gut for his career-long run, kicking on the afterburners to out-run Colorado safety Anthony Perkins as he collapsed across the goal line.

“I didn't know I could still run like that,” Opelt said with a big smile. “I got out in the open field, and you guys all saw it. It shocked me too. It was awesome.”

Collins added a 23-yard TD run with 8:41 remaining, and Steigerwald tacked on another field goal – this one 43 yards – with 4:01 to play.

Collins finished with 160 yards on 20 carries. Page had 138 yards on three catches, and Stafford chipped in with four catches for 88 yards.

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com.



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