By the end of Toledo’s dusting of Bowling Green on Saturday, there was joy on one side, heartache on the other, but also a feeling of emptiness.
We’re not talking about the cleared-out Glass Bowl.
We’re talking about this great rivalry.
Where has it gone?
Toledo started its backup quarterback, committed a season-high 10 penalties, and was outgained. And still the hosts cruised to a 52-36 homecoming victory that pushed its winning streak over BG to nine games — one away from the Battle of I-75 officially becoming the Ten-Year Bore.
No, we don’t expect the Rockets to see it this way.
Nor should they.
Toledo, deservedly, will celebrate now and worry — or panic — later.
Originally, I was going to write that either Bowling Green made greater strides in one week than any team in the 149-year history of college football or the home team is not as good as we thought.
I was going to hammer Toledo.
Then the Rockets turned a 24-21 halftime lead into a runaway, and I realized I’m an idiot. That’s not a fair take from a rivalry game, where the usual laws of fall Saturdays do not apply.
Sure, for good reason, nobody gave Bowling Green (1-5) a chance. Not this disbeliever. Not the oddsmakers. Not Freddie and Frieda (unconfirmed).
The last nine years, Toledo has held the lead for 392:53; Bowling Green for 18:14. That’s not a rivalry. That’s a tractor vs. a Prius.
And yet it was a rivalry, against a famished neighborhood challenger, 23-point underdog or not. To hear the fight-song-singing Toledo players rattle the walls of their locker room afterward is to appreciate what this meant.
“There's no way I could look someone in the face and say we were the class to break that streak,” receiver Cody Thompson said. “It’s an amazing feeling.”
“Kids are still kids,” Candle said. “We are in a society that wants to make college football professional athletics, and it’s not. These guys are students. That's what makes football really cool and what makes events like this a big deal. ... Probably what you heard coming out of that locker room is a lot of relief ... a lot of guys that love playing football for each other.”
In the end, it does not matter what everyone expects you to do. You still have to do it. Credit backup passer Eli Peters for ably stepping in for the injured Mitch Guadagni, the running game for finally getting going — including three touchdowns from Springfield grad Bryant Koback — and the defense for its late stands.
“It’s really hard to win college football games,” Candle said, making no apologies where none were needed.
OK, now a hard stop.
We can simultaneously note the impressiveness of The Streak and that Toledo raised more red flags than the officials who thought they were the show threw yellow ones — 24 in all on the two teams.
Toledo opened a quick 17-0 lead thanks to a pair of short fields caused by a blocked punt and a fumble. But on a day that began with a rainbow looping over the stadium, it proved fool’s gold.
Bowling Green otherwise worked over the Rockets much of the first three quarters, above all exposing their five-alarm early-season — every-season? — concern: the defense.
Fresh off allowing 1,609 yards in its last three games against stiffer competition, Toledo made no distinction against the Falcons, allowing another 481 for good measure.
Most concerning: the two big-play runs in which Andrew Clair went untouched for 15 and 60 yards into the end zone, to say nothing of the sophomore running back’s 61-yard touchdown catch out of the backfield.
If the Rockets allow 192 rushing yards to the nation’s 127th rushing offense, how will they fare against literally anyone else in the Mid-American Conference?
Bottom line is they did not look anything close to a championship team, but they did look like a winning one.
Celebrate today, Toledo. Worry tomorrow.
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