The Battle of I-75 trophy will stay with the University of Toledo football team for the ninth consecutive season.
The Rockets, a heavy favorite coming into the game, jumped out to an early lead then pulled away late in a competitive 52-36 win over Bowling Green on Saturday at the Glass Bowl.
“It’s very difficult to win college football games,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said. “Obviously this is a rivalry game and everybody thought this was going to be a one-sided win and from the outside, everyone was trying to make it that. That puts more pressure in our locker room and I thought our kids handled it really, really well.
“Another epic battle for the I-75 trophy, and I’m happy that thing is staying where it belongs and it is down there in our locker room and will be there for another year at least.”
Toledo starting quarterback Mitch Guadagni suffered a concussion in the Rockets’ previous game at Fresno State, opening the door for sophomore Eli Peters to make his first career start.
VIDEO: Toledo coach Jason Candle
Peters commanded the offense in the rivalry game, finishing the game 17-of-35 passing for 184 yards and three touchdowns. But Toledo put the game away on the ground with 288 rushing yards, including 101 yards from Shakif Seymour, 90 yards and three touchdowns for Bryant Koback, and 79 yards and a score from Art Thompkins.
Cody Thompson, Diontae Johnson, and Reggie Gilliam caught TD passes for the Rockets.
Bowling Green running back Andrew Clair paced the Falcons with 118 rushing yards and two TDs along with 74 receiving yards and a score. Quarterback Jarret Doege was 18-of-34 for 289 yards and three TDs. Scott Miller and Quintin Morris hauled in touchdown catches for the Falcons.
Toledo (3-2, 1-0 MAC), helped by an early blocked punt by Gilliam and fumble recovery by cornerback Ka’dar Hollman, took a 17-0 lead with 6:59 left in the opening quarter after a Jameson Vest field goal, a Gilliam TD reception, and a Johnson touchdown catch.
“We have playmakers all over the field in all three aspects of our football team,” Peters said. “It’s really a relief off the offense’s shoulders when they can make plays like that. It really feels good, and I’m proud of them.”
Bowling Green answered with touchdown runs of 15 and 60 yards from Clair. Toledo stretched the lead back to 24-14 on a 1-yard Thompkins TD run, but Bowling Green again had the response, this time with a 61-yard TD connection from Doege to Clair to cut the Toledo lead to 24-21.
“We gave up some explosive plays, but at the end of the day, No. 1 [Clair] has to get some credit for that,” Candle said. “That’s a hell of a football player now. That’s a good back. He’s explosive in space and he is tough to tackle.”
Toledo struck first in the second half on a 3-yard TD pass from Peters to Thompson. Once again Bowling Green responded with an 8-yard TD pass from Doege to Morris and the Toledo lead was 31-28 with 1:35 left in the third.
With the margin still three points, Toledo pinned Bowling Green at its own 1-yard line on a punt by Bailey Flint.
Bowling Green went three-and-out after attempting a long pass from Doege to Miller on first down that was broken up at the last second.
“That was a huge, huge play right there,” BG coach Mike Jinks said. “We were having success with some misdirection, gap-scheme plays, and when you’re pulling guys on the half-yard-line, you’re hesitant to do that because of the potential safety, so we took a shot there on first down. It’s there. That, to me, was the key series of the ball game.”
With another short field, Toledo took back command of the game with 7-yard TD run by Koback that made it 38-28. Koback added two late TD runs of 5 and 21 yards to cement the win.
Bowling Green added a late 42-yard TD pass from Doege to Miller and converted a two-point conversion to make the score 52-36.
The Toledo defense gave up 481 yards of total offense, but after being gashed for big plays in the first half, the Rockets came up with some key second-half stops.
“Playing defense nowadays, you have no choice but to have a short-term memory,” UT senior safety Josh Teachey said. “Plays are going to happen. That’s what makes this game great. As a defense when you give up a big play, you have to forget about it and go to the next play.”
Bowling Green falls to 1-5 overall and 0-2 in the MAC.
“We showed a lot of resiliency, especially after getting down 17-0 and battling back,” Jinks said. “We gave ourselves an opportunity in the fourth quarter to win the ballgame.”
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