Austin Dantin and David Pasquale are tethered in several ways, from the journey they took from Florida to the University of Toledo to the competition they had early in their careers at quarterback to the frustration they endured for much of their final collegiate seasons.
On Tuesday, in their final regular-season game, they developed another bond, a special link that will be seared in their memories for some time. The sparsely used seniors produced a beautiful and unexpected narrative on senior night to propel the Rockets to a 35-23 win over Akron at the Glass Bowl.
After injuries sidelined the starters at their positions, Dantin and Pasquale took the opportunity to deliver a memorable swan song, accounting for all but seven of Toledo’s 459 offensive yards in a triumph that will likely earn an invitation to a bowl game.
"It’s a great feeling, another Florida brother of mine," Pasquale said. "I feel great. That’s all I can say."
Their farewell season, which began for both of them with promise, came full circle against an Akron team that was determined to avoid a third straight one-win season. Pasquale, from Cape Coral, was positioned in the preseason to be in the mix at running back after reshaping his body. He dropped 20 pounds, the result of an improved diet and early morning runs, but his impact was reduced to special teams after David Fluellen developed into one of the top backs in the nation.
With Fluellen out Tuesday with a high ankle sprain, Pasquale totaled 203 yards — 93 on the ground and 110 on seven receptions thrown by Dantin. Their 55-yard strike in the second quarter forecast the events of the evening and gave Toledo a 14-10 lead it did not relinquish.
Before Tuesday, the nomadic Pasquale, who even played defense for a brief period early in his career, had accumulated 409 total yards in 39 appearances.
"My whole career," Pasquale said, responding to a question of how long he has waited to unleash a performance like this one. "But being the kind of guy I am, I don’t let not playing get to me. I love this team, I love this university, and I love being around my guys. In practice, if that means going on scout team or doing anything I can to make this team better, that’s bigger than me."
Added coach Matt Campbell: "He just bided his time. He comes out to practice every day and works really, really hard."
The same is true of Dantin, who made the 24th start of his career but just the first since losing his job after the first week of the season. Even before starter Terrance Owens was declared out with an ankle injury, Campbell had planned to start Dantin, a nod to the impact he made on a program that finished 3-9 the year before his arrival.
Campbell was effusive in his praise of the Tallahassee native in the postgame news conference, saying if he had a son, "I’d want him to respond like Austin Dantin."
"For the next four or five years in our program, he forever will be talked about," Campbell said. "Unselfish, committed to excellence, and a young man that stuck with the football team."
This marked one of Dantin’s finest performances, as he threw for a career-high 327 yards and matched his previous best with five touchdown passes. Dantin, who played only one legitimate series at quarterback after the opener, completed 29 of 35 passes and added 32 rushing yards.
Dantin, who had hoped to play last Wednesday at Northern Illinois after taking first-team reps during the week, said spearheading a victory on senior day "is a close second."
"It’s been a long time in a game situation to really step out there and be the guy and contribute."
Contact Ryan Autullo at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6160 or on Twitter @AutulloBlade.