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UT has another obstacle in its way

11/25/2016, 12:57am EST
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Rockets hope to play spoiler against unbeaten Western Michigan


Toledo’s Treyvon Hester reaches for a fumbled snap during the second half of last year’s game against Western Michigan at the Glass Bowl. The ball was recovered by WMU. BLADE

KALAMAZOO, Mich. — With one final hurdle in the way, the University of Toledo football team will travel to Western Michigan today to try to spoil the Broncos’ undefeated season and in doing so, return to the Mid-American Conference championship game for the first time since 2004.

“We’ve been waiting to play for a championship in this city for a long time and this is our chance to do so,” UT coach Jason Candle said. “We’re going to put our best foot forward and try to win the football game. We’ll play aggressive and we have to play poised and play smart and have a plan and stick to our plan.”

No. 14 Western Michigan (11-0, 7-0 MAC) represents the biggest challenge of the season for Toledo (9-2, 6-1), but the Rockets came into the season hoping to be able to play big games in the month of November.

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“It’s definitely a good feeling,” UT senior offensive tackle Storm Norton said. “Everything we’ve worked for is still in front of us. We just have to treat this game like any other game and prepare like it’s for a championship and that’s the way we are going to attack it.”

Toledo lost to Ohio at the Glass Bowl on Oct. 27, but since then have recorded three consecutive November wins to keep itself square in the race for a MAC West title. The team rallied around its senior leaders and stayed on track to accomplish its preseason goal of winning a MAC title.

“After the OU game, this team could have gone one of two ways,” Candle said. “They could have gone far, far away or they could have stayed the course and continued and we have been able to do that. I’m really proud of our guys and that is a testament to our senior leadership to get into this position to be in this game. Our goal we set out was to get to November and play well in November. Certainly we are here and we’ve handled what we needed to handle the last few weeks.”

The game in Kalamazoo, Mich., will feature the top two scoring offenses in the conference as well as two of the top scoring defenses. Western Michigan tops the conference, averaging 43.8 points per game, allowing just 17.7 points per game. Toledo is second with 39.2 points per game, allowing a third-best 22.5 points per game.

“We’re playing one of the best, if not the best, offense in our league statistically,” Western Michigan coach P.J. Fleck said. “Maybe statistically even better than us. This is a challenge for everybody. This is what you want. You want to play the best at the end of the season for the best reward.”

Playing big games in November, like the one today, is one of the reason players come to play at Toledo.

“You come to Toledo for a lot of reasons,” UT senior defensive tackle Treyvon Hester said. “For family, football and the coaches. But to be in a position we are in right now, that is a big reason why we come to Toledo.”

Both coaches have stressed this game will be treated like any other. But with so much on the line, both teams welcome the challenge.

“They’re probably the best team we’ve played all year,” Fleck said. “You’ve got to give them a lot of credit. It’s going to be a heck of a matchup and it’s what you want for a MAC West championship in my opinion. Two of the best teams in the West playing each other. It is amazing that you are 11-0 and you still haven’t wrapped up your division and your side, which is interesting. But that’s the MAC.”

Last season, Western Michigan spoiled Toledo’s chance to play in the MAC championship game with a 35-30 win at the Glass Bowl. This season, the Rockets hope they can return the favor with a road win against the favored Broncos.

“We’re playing a tremendous team at the end of the year for a chance to go and play for a championship,” Candle said. “I don’t know where else you would rather be at this point in the season.”

Contact Brian Buckey at: bbuckey@theblade.com or 419-724-6110.

Toledo at No. 14 Western Michigan

■ Time: 5 p.m.

■ Records: Toledo is 9-2, 6-1 in MAC; Western Michigan is 11-0, 7-0 MAC

■ TV: ESPN2

■ Radio: 1370 AM

■ Series: Toledo leads 41-29

■ Favorite: Western Michigan by 8½

■ Notes: Toledo can clinch a share of the MAC West title with a win and return to the league championship game for the first time since 2004. ... In 2004, Toledo beat Miami 35-27 in the MAC title game. Since then, the Rockets have been co-champions of the division four times but lost the tiebreakers each time, leaving them out of the MAC championship game. ... Toledo has won at least nine games in five of the past six seasons. ... UT quarterback Logan Woodside leads the nation with 40 touchdown passes. His 3,653 passing yards this season are a UT single-season record. ... Running back Kareem Hunt has 4,625 career rushing yards, good for second all-time at UT. He needs 224 yards to break the record set by Chester Taylor. ... Western Michigan is looking for its first berth in the MAC championship game since 2000. ... Western Michigan receiver Corey Davis currently is the active leading receiver in the FBS with 4,987 yards. He has the all-time MAC receiving record and is just 18 yards away from the all-time FBS receiving record. ... Western Michigan begins the season 11-0 for the first time in program history. The 11 wins are the most at any point in a single season.

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