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Despite not capturing MAC, UT still shined

12/04/2016, 12:52am EST
By By BRIAN BUCKEY BLADE SPORTS WRITER

Rockets have another shot at 10-win season

Despite not capturing MAC, UT still shined

Toledo RB Terry Swanson scores a 63-yard touchdown against Bowling Green. The rivalry win was one of the most memorable moments of the year for the Rockets. BLADE PHOTO

For a University of Toledo football team that was focused all season on ending a 12-year Mid-American Conference title drought, a loss to unbeaten Western Michigan with a trip to the MAC championship on the line was a bitter pill to swallow.

While the Rockets (9-3, 6-2 MAC) fell just short of their ultimate goal, there were still plenty of bright spots in the 2016 regular season.

With nine regular season wins and a chance for back-to-back 10-win seasons with a bowl win, Toledo has plenty of positives to reflect on after this season.

“To win nine football games is still really difficult to do,” UT coach Jason Candle said Nov. 25 after the Western Michigan game.

“There’s a lot of players in that locker room that are disappointed right now, but we are certainly not going to hang our head and feel like we are a failure because we did not win the football game tonight. We have one last opportunity to put together a good trip and a good plan for these seniors and send them out, their last time with a midnight blue and gold jersey on, hopefully with a win.”

Toledo was led all season by an explosive, record-breaking offense that finished atop the conference in total offense with a school-record 529.8 yards per game and were second in scoring offense at 38.8 points per game.

Junior quarterback Logan Woodside led the MAC with 323.5 passing yards per game and led the nation with 43 touchdowns. Woodside’s 3,882 passing yards this season are a UT single-season record as are his 43 TDs.

Senior running back Kareem Hunt closed the season on a tear and ended up leading the MAC in rushing at 112.9 yards per game. Throughout the season, Hunt continued to climb the all-time rushing list at UT and now with 4,825 career rushing yards, he is second all-time at UT and just 24 yards off the record held by Chester Taylor (4,849 from 1998-2001). Hunt’s 27 career 100-plus yard rushing games are tied with Taylor for the school record as well.

Senior tight end Michael Roberts broke the UT record for receiving touchdowns in a season. After his 3-TD performance at Western Michigan, Roberts has 15 TDs this season, surpassing the previous mark of 14 set by Lance Moore in 2004.

Woodside, Hunt, and Roberts, along with junior wide receiver Cody Thompson and senior offensive linemen Storm Norton and Mike Ebert earned first-team all-MAC honors.

“To get six first-team all-MAC players on offense is huge and we just played solid offensively all season,” Woodside said.

Sophomore Jon'Vea Johnson was named to the second-team offense and senior Corey Jones mad the third team as a punt return specialist.

On defense, senior defensive end John Stepec earned first-team all-conference honors, while seniors Treyvon Hester and DeJuan Rogers made the second team and junior linebacker Ja'Wuan Woodley was named to the third team.

“It was awesome being a senior and being elected as a captain by my teammates,” Stepec said. “I just tried to go out every week and do as much as I could for my team and lay it all on the line, because I knew it was my last season. I’m happy and honored to receive all-MAC honors.”

Here are some other highlights from this season:

A shootout at BYU

Toledo went into a hostile environment at LaVell Edwards Stadium and turned in all-time classic game, despite ultimately falling 55-53 on a last-second field goal.

The game featured eight lead changes, four ties, and a whopping 1,287 yards of total offense.

Woodside racked up a school-record 505 yards and five touchdowns in the losing effort.

“That’s one thing about our guys is they’re not going to back down from anything and they flourish in that type of environment,” Candle said after the game. “It was fun to have a team across the sideline that did the same. It was an exciting game and they deserved to win the game.”

Woodside said he will never forget the raucous crowd.

“It was probably one of the coolest places I ever played at,” Woodside said. “It was definitely the loudest place we ever played at. I think that we went out there and just played the best that we could and I really wish that we could have pulled that one out and got a win.”

Toledo holds on

In a game that was closer than many expected, Toledo used a late scoring drive to top the rival Falcons with a 42-35 victory in front of a sellout crowd at the Glass Bowl.

The win marked the seventh straight time that Toledo beat Bowling Green in the series. The Rockets’ seniors have never experienced a loss to their I-75 rivals.

“That’s why you come to play Toledo football, to go undefeated in a series like that against a great football team,” Roberts said after the game. “They gave us a run for our money and all credit to them, but we did what we had to do to win.”

Rockets snap skid

Toledo used another late scoring drive to help end its misery against Northern Illinois and snap a six-game losing streak in the series with a 31-24 win at Guaranteed Rate Field.

“These seniors have heard for four years how they can’t beat Northern Illinois,” Candle said after the game. “I’m just really proud that those guys got to share that moment. For me personally I do [feel like a weight is off my back]. Our seniors probably do. But there are a lot of new faces in that locker room too and you’re talking about a new coaching staff that this is their first Northern Illinois and Toledo game.”

The game, played at the home of the Chicago White Sox, was a unique atmosphere for what has become and important MAC West rivalry.

“It definitely was good to go play Northern Illinois in a real unique atmosphere and get a win against those guys,” Woodside said. “They are a really good team and I think they had only lost one or two games in November since 2010, so that was big for us.”

MAC dreams spoiled

Even after losing a game to Ohio at home in October, Toledo was still set up with a chance to win a MAC West title with a victory at Western Michigan in the regular season finale.

However, Woodside was intercepted on the first play from scrimmage and the Broncos controlled most of the game and cruised to a 55-35 victory.

“I definitely think we won some big games,” Woodside said. “We definitely left some things out there that we wish we had back. I think we ended up losing to a really good Western Michigan team. But overall, 9-3, we felt like we could’ve won a few more games, but looking back on it, we had a pretty solid season.”

Toledo will have to wait another year to try and end its conference title drought. A win in a bowl game this season, however, would cap an excellent two year stretch, that despite lacking a MAC title, is still one of the best in program history. 

Only two times have the Rockets had back-to-back seasons with at least 10 wins. Toledo went undefeated over a three year stretch from 1969-1971, winning 11, 12, and 12 games respectively. In 2000 and 2001, Toledo went 10-1 and 10-2 respectively.

“The season didn’t end the way we wanted,” Stepec said. “But I’m extremely proud of my group of guys, especially this senior class. I’m really excited to go to this bowl game and win 10 games and go back-to-back.

“I know coach said not many teams in Toledo football history have done that. It would be a great win for us in the bowl game and we can make history a little bit.”

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

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Tag(s): College  Toledo