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Rockets rumble in season opener

08/31/2014, 12:15am EDT
By By NICHOLAS PIOTROWICZ BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Ely throws for 4 TDs as UT crushes New Hampshire

Rockets rumble

Kareem Hunt scores a touchdown for Toledo in front of New Hampshire’s Akil Anderson in Saturday night’s game at the Glass Bowl. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

With the way Saturday's game ended, most of the blue-clad fans had long since forgotten how it began.

At one point, the University of Toledo trailed by 11 midway through the second quarter. At one point, the Rockets looked as if they would need every minute of the game to win. At one point, the Rockets’ offense looked pedestrian.

In a hurry, that all changed.

UT scored touchdowns on six consecutive possessions, turning a close game into a blowout and one of the best teams in the Football Championship Subdivision into a sieve.

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The Rockets won their season opener against New Hampshire 54-20 with 36 inspired minutes to finish the game.

“In this football game, you really saw us improve quarter to quarter, and I thought that’s exactly what I expected to see from our football team,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said.

It was hard to find a player on Toledo's offense who did not have a good night.

In his first start as a Rocket — and first since he was a high school senior in 2010 — Phillip Ely was excellent.

A pair of shaky throws on the opening drive belied the game Ely ended up having. The redshirt junior finished 24-for-34 for 337 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions for the Rockets.

“I think any way I could have played — I could have played bad, I could have played good — I think just being out there was the best feeling,” Ely said. “It really was special, and I shared it with a great group of guys.”

Sophomore running back Kareem Hunt had his sixth 100-yard game as a Rocket, rushing for 136 yards on 20 carries and scoring twice.

Justin Olack caught two of Ely's touchdown passes, Corey Jones hauled in a 64-yard score, and Alonzo Russell hauled in six passes.

The offensive line was superb as well, helping Toledo rushers average more than seven yards per carry and keeping Ely upright all night. He was not sacked in the ballgame.

After the Wildcats took an 11-point lead in the second quarter, Toledo outscored New Hampshire 51-6 the rest of the way.

Toledo finished with 674 yards of total offense.

But early on, New Hampshire wasted little time taking the lead.

After forcing the Rockets to punt on the game's first possession, the Wildcats marched 71 yards in 10 plays, capped by Sean Goldrich's 35-yard touchdown to R.J. Harris on a third-and-long.

The Rockets were able to maneuver inside the Wildcats' 10-yard line on their next drive, but they could not punch in the ball, and settled for a 22-yard field goal by Jeremiah Detmer.

New Hampshire took a 14-3 lead midway through the second quarter with Goldrich's touchdown run. On the drive, Goldrich scrambled on a third down and jumped for the first down, during which time Toledo safety Chaz Whitaker dove at Goldrich.

In the process, there appeared to be helmet-to-helmet contact, and the officials ejected Whitaker for targeting.

The Wildcats converted eight of 10 third-down attempts in the half.

Suddenly, after managing three points in three drives, the Rockets found a big pass play. Ely hit Jones on a crossing route for Toledo's first touchdown, and the Rockets cut the lead to four.

After stopping New Hampshire, the Rockets completed a 96-yard touchdown drive — which Hunt finished with a two-yard run — in only 1:52.

Toledo botched the extra point, though, and took a 16-14 lead into halftime.

Hunt scored on Toledo’s first drive of the second half, and New Hampshire, desperate to keep up after a failed drive, tried a fake punt. Rogers High School graduate Ray Bush blew up the play, stopping punter Brad Prasky for a loss of one. Bush laughed when asked about the play.

“We, across the board, were yelling it was coming,” Bush said. “I didn’t really expect it, but once the long snapper tried to block me, it was kinda self-explanatory.”

New Hampshire coach Sean McDonnell blamed himself for the miscue.

“I have to look in the mirror myself: That [decision] was awful,” McDonnell said. “From that point they played downhill.

“They gained confidence, and they were physical on us. And their quarterback made good decisions against us.”

Toledo began its drive inside New Hampshire territory, and Ely hit Olack for a touchdown to run the lead to 30-14.

The Wildcats scored on their next drive but would come no closer.

The Rockets next will play host to No. 24 Missouri, which beat South Dakota State 38-18 on Saturday.

“Now — I think we all know this — one of the common themes in college football is you really do improve greatly from Week 1 to Week 2,” Campbell said. “[We’re] bar-none, not even close to a finished product.”

Contact Nicholas Piotrowicz at: npiotrowicz@theblade.com, 724-6110, or on Twitter @NickPiotrowicz

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Tag(s): College  Toledo