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Even after NIU win, Toledo keeps next-game-up mentality

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Toledo is focused on finishing the season strong after win over Northern Illinois.

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With a 27-17 win Thursday against Northern Illinois at the Glass Bowl, the University of Toledo football team took over control of the Mid-American Conference’s West Division.

While it was a big win for the Rockets (8-1, 5-0 MAC), the coaches and players made sure not to overstate its importance, because they won’t accomplish their goals unless they back it up with a strong finish in the final three games of the regular season.

Although it was just the second victory against Northern Illinois in the past eight seasons and put Toledo in position to reach the MAC championship game, UT coach Jason Candle said the pressure builds with each game in November , and the NIU game is no more important than the next game at Ohio, or at rival Bowling Green, or home to Western Michigan.

“This is a big win for our team,” Candle said. “It was the next game, so obviously each one as you go becomes bigger than the last one. I think as you get into November, we work the entire year to get to this time and play meaningful games. We have the opportunity, and it certainly is our goal to go and win it. When you can do it on your home field, in front of your home fans, it’s a great feeling.”

Senior quarterback Logan Woodside passed for 361 yards and surpassed Bruce Gradkowski as the all-time passing leader at Toledo. Woodside found Diontae Johnson 10 times, and Johnson racked up 166 receiving yards.

“NIU has had us for a long time,” Woodside said. “We just came out and stuck together and executed when we needed to and came out on top. I’m so proud of this team. The defense played lights out tonight. The offensive line and Terry [Swanson] did a great job tonight. This is big for us, but next week is going to be bigger.”

Swanson, a senior, rushed 29 times for 116 yards and three touchdowns and became just the seventh running back in Toledo history with 3,000 career rushing yards.

“It’s a big win,” Swanson said. “It’s well-needed. It proves that we can get another win against this team, which is a big plus, but now it’s on to the next.”

On defense, Toledo was led by senior cornerback Trevon Mathis, who had two interceptions, including a diving catch on a key fourth-down play that essentially sealed the win.

“This one is big just because it’s my last year,” Mathis said. “This team beat us six years straight, and we just got two in a row against them. This is a great rivalry, but it is on to the next now.”

With standout performances by many from the UT senior class, Candle said afterward the team rode its seniors to the win in a battle of conference unbeatens. Those seniors have dealt with disappointing losses to the Huskies in years past and made sure they wouldn’t have that feeling again.

“Tonight was about our senior class,” Candle said. “It was about Terry Swanson. It was about Logan Woodside. It was about Trevon Mathis. It was about Marquise Moore, Elijah Nkansah, Brant Weiss. These guys that have been rock-solid players, guys that have played a lot of football here and have been embarrassed by this football team that we played tonight. They probably took that a little personally and came out tonight and got a win.”

The seniors for UT have seen past teams come just short of the ultimate goal, and nothing is guaranteed in November games. So the Rockets take a day-by-day approach, and that has worked for them thus far.

“I like to play golf,” Candle said. “When you are 5-under after 13 holes, nobody cares if you don’t finish it. You have to finish it, that’s the way it goes. You have to finish the deal. Our guys know that. Our guys are down in the locker room saying, ‘Coach, what is next? What lies ahead? What’s tomorrow?’ You win these games, you move on, and it gives you a chance to get better. I’m proud of our senior class. They really took ownership tonight.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110, or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.

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