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Published: Tuesday, 12/28/2010

Rockets shot down with trickery

T.Y. Hilton returns a kick for a score in the third quarter. He was the key player when the Panthers pulled off a hook-and-lateral play in the fourth. T.Y. Hilton returns a kick for a score in the third quarter. He was the key player when the Panthers pulled off a hook-and-lateral play in the fourth.
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DETROIT — Boise State has the hook and ladder and Statue of Liberty, and you can now add Florida International's "Boise" to the list of the best-executed trick plays in bowl history.

On fourth-and-17, with the University of Toledo leading by one with less than a minute to play in Sunday's Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, FIU dialed up their own version of the Broncos' hook-and-lateral play that they used against Oklahoma in the 2007 Fiesta Bowl.

Jacob Younger took a pass from Wes Carroll in the right flat, then flipped the ball to a streaking T.Y. Hilton, who tip-toed down the sideline and just barely crossed the first down marker before going out of bounds. The play was reviewed but stood as called, giving the Panthers a first down at the UT 42-yard line.

Four plays later, Jack Griffin kicked a 34-yard field goal as time expired to hand FIU a stunning 34-32 victory over the Rockets in its first bowl appearance in school history.

"[We run the hook-and-lateral] every day after practice," said Hilton, who was named the MVP of the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl. "Every day."

"And how many different ways have you run it?" interjected FIU coach Mario Cristobal. "Probably about 15, 16 different ways, right?"

"Yep, with different guys in different spots," replied Hilton.

"That one was the prettiest one of all, I think," said Cristobal.

The final outcome spoiled the jubilation on the UT sideline just minutes earlier when the Rockets converted a gutsy, go-ahead 2-point conversion on Terrance Owens' pass to Eric Page on a slant route in the end zone with 1:14 remaining following Owens' 14-yard touchdown run.

"We were playing the game to win," UT coach Tim Beckman said about his decision to gamble and go for the 2-point conversion. "We talked about it even prior to that touchdown drive that we were going to go for two points and win the football game."

But things started to go awry soon after for the Rockets, as they had for much of the second half when Hilton ran back a bowl-record 89-yard kickoff return and Owens threw three interceptions.

The ensuing squib kick by Bill Claus following Toledo's go-ahead score gave FIU possession at its own 48-yard line, meaning the Panthers would only have to go 20-25 yards with two timeouts at their disposal to get into field goal position for Griffin.

"The squib kick wasn't as good as we wanted it," Beckman said. "Didn't want it in the middle of the field, wanted it more towards the sideline. We've had blunders in the kicking game all year."

After Danny Molls sacked Carroll, setting up third and long, and Malcolm Riley chased down Carroll and forced him to throw an incomplete pass to bring up fourth down, the Rockets appeared ready to escape with their first win at Ford Field in three bowl games here.

But Hilton followed with a sensational effort to get a game-saving first down, although many believed he came up short — Beckman included.

"Of course not," Beckman said, "but that's not my judgment to make. It was checked and reviewed, and off the review they said that he made it."

Leading 24-7 early in the third quarter, the Rockets wouldn't have even been in position to lose the game had they not committed so many turnovers and made several costly mistakes on special teams in the second half.

"We're very, very disappointed in basically the way we came out the whole football game," Beckman said. "We just weren't clicking the way we were capable of clicking. We had too many turnovers and gave up big plays on special teams again."

But once the pain of FIU's Motor City Miracle subsides, the Rockets will find themselves well-positioned to play in another bowl game next season.

Toledo loses just five starters on both sides of the ball to graduation and returns several key contributors from the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, including Owens, Page, Molls, Riley, and running back Adonis Thomas (193 yards, two touchdowns).

"There's no question being in the situation where they get to play at Ford Field in a great bowl game, they're going to battle back from this," Beckman said. "We get back on January 10th [for offseason workouts], and they'll be ready to talk about it and ready to get to work for next football season."

Contact Zach Silka at: zsilka@theblade.com or 419-724-6084.



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