UT’s Jordan Haden intercepts a pass to secure Saturday’s 29-23 victory against Cincinnati.
Aligning the walls inside University of Toledo’s football facility are posters showing the season schedule, with strips of construction paper covering all remaining dates.
Take it one game at a time, demands the ageless plea to not look ahead. No matchup requires more attention than any other.
The Rockets have remained faithful to that approach, but no one can deny the unusual level of electricity that embodied the team Saturday when a ranked opponent showed up at the Glass Bowl. It was as if they had wanted to circle that date on the schedule, though because of a ridged piece of paper, they couldn’t.
If upending previously unbeaten Cincinnati was simply another triumph in a streak that has grown to seven, the Rockets were unconvincing. Consider the celebration. Their voices, at full throat in the locker room as they barked the words of the school fight song, penetrated the basement ceiling at the Larimer Athletic Complex.
Moments later, safety Jermaine Robinson said Toledo has prepared for Cincinnati’s offense "since January."
Coach Matt Campbell had not come down from his high 30 minutes after Jordan Haden’s interception assured the 29-23 win, speaking in passionate tongue in adoration of a team that closed out a game against a marquee program to halt a string of nailbiting outcomes that tilted the opposite direction.
"The only one that’s going to top this one, at this point, is a MAC championship win at the end of the season," said linebacker Dan Molls, who led Toledo with 13 tackles. "We still have a long road and a lot of games to go through to get there."
As fans line up to chug glasses of the Campbell Kool-Aid, one must wonder what Toledo’s head man was drinking Saturday. An ample consumption of coffee, soda, and energy drinks is the only legal combination capable of producing the animation he displayed. He turned to face the home side of the stadium following Robinson’s early interception for a touchdown, swinging his arms into the air to invite for more noise.
After Jayrone Elliott made a third-down stop in the third quarter — critical because it came after the Rockets failed to secure an onside kick — Campbell greeted him on the field with a leaping side bump. It’s a wonder that the 6-foot-3, 240-pound Elliott didn’t crumble to the turf. Responding to a question about the onside kick, Campbell’s voice amplified as he spoke of his team’s mission to earn respect, "and the only way to earn it is to attack."
"Certainly it’s not a fake deal or a theatrical deal," Campbell said. "It’s more than anything to continue to inspire our kids. I feel like we play well when we have great energy and great focus. Our entire sideline was unbelievable tonight, and this crowd was awesome."
Despite adding a signature victory to its 7-1 mark, Toledo is not ranked in either the Associated Press poll or the Coaches Poll. A win Saturday at Buffalo could bump the Rockets over the line, especially in the minds of AP voters, who pegged them 26th — one spot from a coveted appearance in the top 25.
A calmer Campbell eventually reverted to the one-game-at-a-time mantra. He told reporters that he warned his players in the locker room of the dangers posed by Buffalo, a 1-6 team that gave unbeaten Ohio fits this month in Athens. Asked if his team should be ranked in the top 25, Campbell took a diplomatic approach and said such lists are for others to determine (though he does have a vote in the coaches poll). Even if the the Rockets had cracked the top 25, Campbell had no plans to address the accomplishment with his team on Sunday.
A humorous scene unfolded in the parking lot after the game, as quarterback Terrance Owens realized he made his biggest misstep of the evening by locking his keys in his car before the game. No worries, a police officer on scene was happy to pry open the passenger door.
"That also happened on Thursday," Owens said.
Forgive his absent mind. It was focused intently on the next game on the schedule.
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.
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