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Published: Sunday, 10/25/2009

Failed launch: Rockets slip against first-place Temple

BY ZACH SILKA
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

The resiliency of the University of Toledo football team has been tested numerous times throughout the season.

Saturday night, the Rockets got their stiffest test yet.

Playing with a third-string quarterback behind center and facing a 16-point deficit early in the second quarter, UT had to show what it was made of against an upstart Temple program that entered riding a four-game win streak.

Cue junior Alex Pettee, who directed last week's game-winning scoring drive against Northern Illinois but didn't have an opportunity to repeat the feat last night in the Rockets' 40-24 loss to Temple in front of 16,334 at the Glass Bowl.

The defeat drops UT (4-4, 2-2 Mid-American Conference) to fourth in the MAC West Division standings after entering in second place behind Central Michigan.

"I'm disappointed for our seniors because our goal was to win a conference championship," UT coach Tim Beckman said. "What's going to have to happen now is somebody's going to have to do some things for us to get into the conference championship game with two losses."

Temple (5-2, 4-0) moved into sole position of first place in the East Division with Ohio's loss to Kent State earlier in the day.

The Owls came in limiting their opponents to 320.3 yards per game and beat that average last night by holding UT to 313 yards.

"They did what Temple's been doing - playing dang good defense and running the football and keeping it out of our hands," Beckman said. "Credit goes to them."

From the very start, the Rockets didn't show very much playmaking capability.

Playing in place of injured Aaron Opelt (shoulder) and Austin Dantin (ankle), Pettee could never find a rhythm against the MAC's best defense. He completed 29 of 47 passes for 265 yards, along with a touchdown, two interceptions, and a fumble.

Following a pair of three-and-outs from its offense to begin the game, UT found itself down 13-0 with

6:49 remaining in the first quarter.

"I don't think we started very well," Beckman said. "Our offense was not able to capitalize on very much at all."

Starting at the UT 44-yard line, Temple quarterback Vaughn Charlton capped off the Owls' first possession with an 11-yard pass to Michael Campbell for a 6-0 lead just 3:17 into the contest.

UT senior safety Barry Church blocked the ensuing extra-point attempt, though, for his third blocked kick in the last two games.

A 23-yard punt from UT's Alex Steigerwald gave Temple the ball at the Rockets' 34-yard line, and the Owls cashed in on the excellent field position once again with running back Bernard Pierce's one-yard dive into the end zone on third and goal.

UT managed to seize some of Temple's momentum on the ensuing kickoff with sophomore Morgan Williams' 85-yard return for a TD with 6:36 to play in the quarter.

But Temple was back at it two possessions later. Pierce broke off a 39-yard TD run with 12:58 left in the first half to make it 23-7.

The powerful back ran through UT linebacker Beau Brudzinski's arm tackle at the line of scrimmage and had plenty of green pasture in front of him. Pierce finished with 212 rushing yards on 40 carries, despite playing with a bum shoulder.

"I have to give a lot of credit to my linemen," said Pierce, who became Temple's all-time freshman leader in rushing yards and TDs. "They were busting their [butts] today, making holes and knocking people off the ball. If it wasn't for them, I wouldn't have been able to do what I did today."

Temple tacked on three more points with Brandon McManus' 30-yard field goal with 9:58 left following defensive end Adrian Robinson's sack and forced fumble, which was recovered by nose guard Andre Nesblett.

A 48-yard field goal by Steigerwald and running back DaJuane Collins' six-yard TD run got UT back into contention and made it 23-17 at the half.

The Rockets squandered away an opportunity to take the lead with a three-and-out on their first possession of the second half and Pettee's miscue on the next.

Pettee was picked off by linebacker Alex Joseph at the UT 45, and three plays later, Pierce scored on a two-yard plunge to give Temple a 30-17 advantage.

The Owls would continue to pad their lead later in the third quarter with McManus' 29-yard field goal, and they put the game out of reach when Charlton hit Jason Harper for a 36-yard score that made it 40-17 with 11:00 to play.

"We knew what we had to do, what we had to accomplish to keep our MAC championships hopes alive," Collins said. "It hurts a lot because we were really trying to keep this thing going."

One of the few highlights for the Rockets came with eight minutes left in the fourth quarter when UT senior receiver Stephen Williams broke Lance Moore's school record for most career receiving yards. Williams now has 2,784 receiving yards.

Contact Zach Silka at:

zsilka@theblade.com.



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