Air Force wide receiver Jonathan Warzeka, center, runs away from Toledo safety Diauntae Morrow, left, and Elijah Jones (98) during the first half of the Military Bowl.
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WASHINGTON — Even the youngest head coach in the country knows not to expect the conventional from Air Force. After all, the Falcons had already scored three fourth-down touchdowns, including the one that had just tied the Military Bowl with 52 seconds to play.
So 32-year-old Matt Campbell, leading Toledo for the first time, wasn’t surprised when Air Force lined up to kick the extra point and then ran a fake, going for two to win the game instead of sending it to overtime.
The Rockets were ready.
Holder David Baska got bottled up trying to run the option. The ball squirted toward kicker Parker Herrington, who chased it until it went out of bounds in the end zone, and Toledo started celebrating its 42-41 victory Wednesday night at RFK Stadium.
“We talked about it, first and foremost, because they fake some extra points and fake some field goals,” said Campbell, the Toledo offensive coordinator who was promoted this month to the head job after Tim Beckman left for Illinois. “Ironically, we were in the same situation last year in our bowl game. I give credit to our staff. We got ourselves into a defensive call. We were not in a ‘block’ look.”
Toledo succeeded in taking a one-point lead with a 2-point conversion near the end of last year’s Little Caesars Pizza Bowl, but the Rockets lost the game to Florida International on a field goal on the game’s final play.
This time, the wild ending to a wild game went their way in the school’s first bowl win since 2005.
Bernard Reedy’s third touchdown of the game — a 37-yard catch, spin and run on a pass from Terrance Owens — gave Toledo a 42-35 lead with 5:01 remaining and put the Rockets (9-4) over the 40-point mark for a sixth straight game.
“We have 1,000 playmakers on our team,” said Reedy, who had a career-high 126 yards receiving on four catches and was named the game’s MVP. “You never know who’s going to step up. It’s fun to watch everybody catch and run with it.”
The game matched two of the top 25 scoring teams in the country, and they wasted little time living up to their reputations. It was Mid-American Conference member Toledo’s spread offense against Mountain West Air Force’s triple option, and the idea of a huddle seemed a quaint, antiquated concept.
Back and forth they went. A kickoff return for 87 yards. A pitch around the left end for 60. Touchdown passes for 49 and 37 yards. A pair of botched onside kicks.
And that was just the first half.
Toledo’s Adonis Thomas finished with 108 yards on 22 carries. Paul Hornung Award finalist Eric Page caught 13 passes for 59 yards, but his biggest play was an 87-yard kickoff return in the first half.
Owens, getting most of the work at quarterback, completed 19 of 24 passes for 210 yards and three touchdowns. Owens got the nod over Austin Dantin, who started the first 10 games of the season before sitting out the last two with a concussion.
Tim Jefferson, the first quarterback in service academy history to lead his team to four consecutive bowl games, completed 13 of 22 passes for 159 yards with two touchdowns and one interception for Air Force (7-6). Jonathan Warzeka had a career-best 60-yard run to set up one touchdown, and his 37-yard reception on fourth-and-3 tied the game 28-all heading into halftime.
There was even room for a defensive score: Toledo safety Jermaine Robinson’s 37-yard interception runback after he corralled a tipped pass deep in the secondary.
“At the pregame meal, all the DBs will sit together,” Robinson said, “and we talk about what we’re going to do in the game, and I told them I’m like Eric Page and Adonis together. ... I almost dropped it, and finally I got it together. Once I get it in my hands, the rest is history.”
But it all came down to a gutsy decision on a 2-point conversion. It appeared that Baska tried to pitch the ball to Herrington, but Air Force coach Troy Calhoun said the ball just popped out.
Either way, the coach wasn’t about to second-guess himself.
“I thought we had an excellent chance to seal and win the game right there. It didn’t work out,” Calhoun said. “We didn’t convert it, so you better be able to live with it. We’re a group that over the last six years, we’re going to go for it on fourth down if we think there are chances we can take. When we have a pretty darn good opportunity to convert one, we’re going to do it. That’s the way we’re going to play.”