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Rockets take a bit to spark against Maine

09/11/2016, 2:01am EDT
By By DAVID BRIGGS BLADE SPORTS COLUMNIST
Rockets take a bit to spark against Maine

The rains that soaked the early tailgates stopped just as the gates of the Glass Bowl swung open for another season Saturday night. 

Then the sun poked out, and when the whims of Mother Nature produced a 30-second downpour moments into the University of Toledo’s home opener against Maine, a rainbow emerged in the distance. 

A few plays later, Rockets quarterback Logan Woodside threaded an 85-yard touchdown pass — the sixth-longest in school history — to Corey Jones.

IN PICTURES: Toledo 45, Maine 3

It’s been that kind of start for new Toledo coach Jason Candle.

A year after storms washed out the home opener here, everything kept coming up Rockets in their 45-3 win over Maine. 

We’re still not entirely sure what to make of Candle’s first game on the home sidelines. 

By the end, Toledo had the crowd of 23,439 rocking, and though we’ve all said it how many times before, this Rockets team looked very much like one that can discover the university’s pot of football gold at the end of the rainbow — its first Mid-American Conference title since 2004. 

It just took a while. 

Toledo — save for that touchdown on the third play from scrimmage — looked extraordinarily ordinary early against the Black Bears of the second-tier FCS. 

But maybe it was the jolt it needed. Maybe the going was getting a little too good. 

Think back to Candle’s first two games as head coach. In his debut at the Boca Raton Bowl last December, the Rockets smacked 24th-ranked Temple 32-17 despite having just six of the program’s nine assistants at their use. And in his regular-season debut last weekend, it all looked so surprisingly easy. Toledo thumped favored Arkansas State 31-10 in a beatdown so thorough that confounded Red Wolves defensive coordinator Joe Cauthen said he called Candle afterward to inquire about his game plan. 

Saturday lent some perspective. 

The Rockets are a very good team, but not so talented they can play — at times — mindless football. 

Toledo had no offensive rhythm early as the Black Bears crammed the box to cut off the run — a lot more effectively than Arkansas State — and made a series of dumb mistakes, from a 15-yard retaliation penalty to handing over the ball after a Maine punt bounced off the leg of Kadar Hollman. The Rockets led 7-3 late in the first half. 

“We were staring around a little bit. It was a great atmosphere tonight, an awesome student section, a big-time deal,” Candle said. “I’ve been at Toledo a long time, and that’s the best student section I’ve seen since I’ve been here. Our guys maybe got caught up in the emotion of the first game.”

But they answered with a fury. Woodside once more showed a deft long-distance touch — he completed 13 of 25 passes for 329 yards and four touchdowns — Ronnie Jones returned a blocked punt 27 yards for a touchdown, and a defense replacing eight starters remained a stone wall. Toledo has now outgained its first two opponents 1,072-501. 

Before you knew it, a blah night began providing one reminder after another that these Rockets should again be pretty good, loaded with playmakers everywhere. 

Understand we’re not anointing anyone yet. 

This was Maine football, a decent enough program — the Black Bears opened with a last-second loss at Connecticut — but not exactly its two-time national champion hockey team. Toledo would have encountered serious problems only if its halftime fireworks show included a cage match between Rocky and, well, a live black bear startled by explosives. 

As it were, Rocky probably could take the visitors’ cuddly mascot, Bananas The Bear, and the Rockets certainly could take Maine. 

We have to wait for Toledo’s Sept. 24 trip to BYU to learn if it truly is one of the best Group of 5 teams in the nation. Still, the Rockets got the job done when it mattered Saturday. And on another weekend filled with chaos and upsets, there was a lot to be said for Candle’s runaway home debut. 

Contact David Briggs at: dbriggs@theblade.com, 419-724-6084 or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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Quarterback Logan Woodside threw for 329 yards and four touchdowns in the Rockets’ home opener on Saturday. THE BLADE/ANDY MORRISON

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