Toledo's Diontae Johnson is lifted up by Cory Jones after Johnson scored during a November, 2015 game. Johnson electrified the Rockets last night after spending 2016 on the sidelines with injury. Blade/Lori King
In one scintillating run up the right sideline, University of Toledo wide receiver Diontae Johnson changed the whole complexion of the Rockets’ season opener against Elon on Thursday night at the Glass Bowl.
After a bit of a lackluster first half, which saw Toledo settle for field goals on four of its five times in the red-zone, Johnson provided the exact type of spark the team needed after taking a 19-7 lead into halftime.
Johnson fielded the ball at the one-yard line near the right pylon on the opening kickoff of the second half and weaved his way around and through defenders before showcasing his breakaway speed on the way to a 99-yard TD. The Rockets never looked back from that point and won 47-13.
Johnson missed all of last season with a leg injury and UT coach Jason Candle was thrilled to see him back on the field.
“I don’t know if you know how much you miss a guy until you see him back out there,” Candle said. “We weren’t great last year on kickoff returns. That was probably the weakest link on our special teams game last year. [Special teams coach Robby Discher] has done a really good job making that a huge point of emphasis. We took two returns in the game tonight and really had only one called the entire night. Sometimes when it gets down to crunch time, it’s about the player not the plays and not the scheme.
“It was really just a tremendous individual effort. He’s going to come up here and be selfless and humble about it, and everybody got their block, but the kid is pretty good with the ball in his hands and certainly you saw a couple highlight plays in the throwing game as well.”
On top of his kickoff return, Johnson added four catches for 102 yards for an average of 25.5 yards per catch. One of those catches was a highlight reel 69-yard reception on which he was stopped at the one-yard line.
“It felt pretty good just contributing to the offense and trying to do what I could to help out,” Johnson said. “It was pretty good.”
For quarterback Logan Woodside, Diontae Johnson is just another explosive playmaker alongside All-Mid-American Conference receivers in senior Cody Thompson and junior Jon’Vea Johnson.
“It’s great,” Woodside said of getting Johnson back. “That kid has been through a ton. I love that guy to death. I think he deserves all the credit he gets. Sitting out last year definitely was one of the hardest things in his life and to see him back out there, I’m so proud of him and happy for him.”
Candle said Johnson just adds another threat on the outside of the field.
“You add him to the mix of what Jon’Vea and Cody can do and it really opens up things well for us,” Candle said.
CANNON: There was a certain tradition that was missing from the Glass Bowl experience in the opener against Elon. Each time Toledo scored it was a bit more quiet than usual. The customary firing of the cannon after a Rockets score, and at the beginning of the game and the end of each half, was absent.
That is because the Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members responsible for setting off the cannon, are required to have explosives training and certification in order to shoot the cannon. Their certification was not completed prior to the Elon game. However, expect the boom to return to the Glass Bowl the next home game vs. Tulsa as the necessary training and certification is expected to be completed by then.