Coach Matt Campbell has maintained all season that back up quarterback Austin Dantin would help the University of Toledo win a football game. As each week passed it was getting harder and harder to take his message seriously.
Well, Campbell was onto something. Dantin, who has been bound to the sideline for all but a handful of snaps in a senior season that has tested his will, was brilliant in his final regular season game, conjuring memories of the great moments in a solid career that came full circle in front of 14,589 fans at the Glass Bowl.
Making his first start since the season opener at Arizona, Dantin threw for five touchdowns Tuesday in a 35-23 win against Akron that likely secured a third straight bowl game for the Rockets (9-3, 6-2 Mid-American Conference).
Dantin, who got the nod on senior night after Terrance Owens’ lingering ankle injury forced him into street clothes, sealed the win in the fourth quarter with short touchdown passes to Alex Zmolik and Justin Olack. Dantin, making his 24th career start, completed 29 of 35 passes for a career-high 327 yards.
"Someone asked me a couple of weeks ago, ‘Coach, when’s he going to play?" Campbell said. "Well, he played, and he played darn well, and I couldn’t be prouder of him."
A touching moment followed his three-yard TD pass to Olack, as Dantin walked off the field with 8 minutes, 19 seconds remaining and wrapped his arms around Campbell, the first-year coach who benched him after Dantin struggled in week one at Arizona.
Campbell indicated last week that Owens, who ripped the job from Dantin with a stellar performance against Wyoming, might not be able to go.
"This was definitely a special night," said Dantin, who matched his career-high in touchdown passes. "This will be something I remember forever. Last game in the Glass Bowl and to go out like this was a perfect ending to it."
Dantin recorded his first touchdown pass in more than a calendar year when he found Alonzo Russell in the end zone for a 23-yard strike early in the second quarter. Dantin, who added two more TD passes in the half — one to Russell and another to David Pasquale — had not thrown a touchdown pass since Nov. 1, 2011, when he tossed five of them in a loss to Northern Illinois.
The two-year starter from Tallahassee, Fla., was 18 for 23 in the half, totaling 248 passing yards and turning an early 10-0 deficit into a 21-17 lead at halftime.
It was almost as if he and Pasquale, a senior who played in place of injured running back starter David Fluellen, devised a plan to have a little fun in their final regular season game. Pasquale, who had one catch entering the night, was a wrecking ball in the first half, rumbling 96 yards on five catches. He extended a short route across the middle into a 55-yard touchdown, sprinting diagonally and winning a foot race to the pylon against free safety Johnny Robinson.
Pasquale carried the ball 15 times for 94 yards and added another 110 yards on seven catches.
"For him to have the night that he had I couldn’t be happier for him," Dantin said of Pasquale.
Russell, who caught just three passes in the previous two games, played one of his finest games in a prodigious freshman season. He blew past cornerback Bryce Cheek on a go route late in the first half, and Dantin lofted him the ball for a 39-yard scoring connection. Russell needed 214 yards heading into the game to reach 1,000.
Dantin’s memorable night did not come without travails. His throwing arm was smashed in the third quarter, and his wobbly pass fell into the arms of linebacker Kurt Mangum ending a drive in which Toledo advanced to Akron’s 23. Dantin, who was slow to get up, returned to begin the next drive.
That turnover, Toledo’s only one of the game, followed a 17-play drive by Akron that yielded zero points. The Zips, who couldn’t convert on two chances from Toledo’s 2 before being penalized for intentional grounding, lined up for a 33-yard field goal but switched out of the formation, leaving punter Zach Paul to play quarterback. Disaster ensued for the Zips, as Trent Voss dropped Paul before the play could unfold.
Akron, which posted its third straight one-win season, also shook things up at quarterback. Senior Dalton Williams, who leads the MAC with more than 300 passing yards per game, was pulled after two series in favor of freshman Kyle Pohl. The implication, it seemed, is coach Terry Bowden wanted to get a glimpse into his future. Pohl gave reason for optimism, immediately authoring a 14 play, 81-yard drive that ended in Jawon Chisholm’s 4-yard TD run.
Pohl completed 6 of 8 passes on the series for 55 yards and got loose with his legs to convert on third-and-9.
Pohl, of Farmersville, Ohio near Dayton, threw for three TDs, including one with 3:30 to go that cut the deficit to 35-23.
Contact Ryan Autullo at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.