Toledo's Logan Woodside finds running room during Thursday's game at the Glass Bowl against Northern Illinois.
With past November nightmares at the hands of Northern Illinois in the back of their minds and memories of Mid-American Conference championship aspirations crushed by the Huskies in years past, the senior class for the University of Toledo football team stood tall Thursday at the Glass Bowl.
With standout performances down the line for the seniors, the Rockets took control of the MAC West Division with a 27-17 victory against Northern Illinois in a battle of conference unbeatens.
“Tonight was about our senior class,” UT coach Jason 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.”
It was the second consecutive win for Toledo (8-1, 5-0 MAC) against Northern Illinois (6-3, 4-1), snapping a three-game skid against the Huskies at the Glass Bowl and giving the Rockets just their second win in the past eight games in the series.
The story of the night for Toledo was the play of quarterback Woodside and running back Swanson.
Woodside was 23-of-31 passing for 361 yards, supplanting Bruce Gradkowski (9,225 career passing yards) as the all-time passing yards leader at Toledo.
Swanson rushed 29 times for 116 yards and three touchdowns, turning in his sixth 100-yard rushing game of the season. In doing so, he became just the seventh Rockets running back to eclipse 3,000 career rushing yards.
“Those two guys, those guys are the heart of this deal,” Candle said. “Because you have to tell Terry Swanson he is not going to get carries, when he’s good enough to get carries, because of Kareem Hunt. You have to tell Logan Woodside two years in a row that he can’t be the starting quarterback because you have Phillip Ely and he’s really good, too. They hung with us and they fought and fought. We really rode those senior guys, and they played great tonight.”
Not to be overshadowed by the offensive performance, the Toledo defense was solid in holding Northern Illinois down, led by a two-interception night from cornerback Trevon Mathis.
“Every week we have just been sticking to the preparation and doing things right,” Mathis said. “We’ve been straining to the ball and getting 11 heads to the ball on every play.”
After a Swanson 4-yard scoring run and a 1-yard touchdown run by Northern Illinois’ Tre Harbison, the game was tied at 7 with 2:39 left in the first quarter.
With UT pinned at its own 1-yard line in the second, Woodside hit Diontae Johnson on an 89-yard pass, giving the Rockets a first-and-goal from the 10-yard line. On the next play, Woodside scrambled up the middle for what was called a touchdown. After a review, it was determined Woodside fumbled just before crossing the goal line, resulting in a touchback and giving the Huskies the ball.
The play did not shake the resolve of Toledo, and the Rockets took a 10-7 lead into halftime after a 23-yard field goal from Jameson Vest.
“We knew we were going to face adversity at some point in the football game,” Woodside said. “With football there is adversity and you have to overcome it. I would have liked to have had that back, but my teammates picked me up and I shook it off and just tried to go out and make the next play.”
On the opening drive of the second half, Northern Illinois completed a 7-play, 80-yard drive when Marcus Childers ran in from a yard out and gave the Huskies a 14-10 lead. But Toledo answered with two third-quarter touchdown runs from Swanson (13 and 1 yard) and the Rockets led 24-14 with 4:02 left in the third.
With Toledo holding onto a 10-point lead, Northern Illinois’ Jackson Abresch blocked a Bailey Flint punt and set up the Huskies at the Toledo 11. But the UT defense held NIU to a 25-yard field goal from Christian Hagan and maintained a 24-17 edge with 14:09 left.
“It was probably the key moment of the game,” Candle said. “For our defense to put their cleats into the ground when they were backed up there and hold them to a field goal was a huge stop. It changed the course of the game. If we give up a touchdown there, who knows how things go from there.”
Vest added a 34-yard field goal with 8:58 left to give Toledo the final margin, and the defense came up with the stops it needed to.
“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 did a great job tonight. This is big for us, but next week is going to be bigger.”
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