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Comeback win shows Rockets the real deal

09/17/2017, 12:00am EDT
By By DAVID BRIGGS BLADE SPORTS WRITER
Comeback win shows Rockets the real deal

University of Toledo QB Logan Woodside (11) throws against Tulsa duringSaturday's game at the University of Toledo Glass Bowl in Toledo. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

Now that’s how you stage a celebration.

On a night when the University of Toledo feted 100 years of Rockets football — from the leather-helmeted origins to winning nearly every game of Nixon’s first term to the scoreboard-straining present — the hometown program added an all-time memory Saturday.

Toledo 54, Tulsa 51.

What a game. What a rally. What a win.

If Toledo’s showdown against one of its top Group of Five peers was billed as a proving ground, then consider this Rockets team the real thing.

If nothing else, UT displayed extraordinary resilience.

All night, the Rockets threatened to turn this big bash into a bigger dud.

They were plowed like farm soil (Tulsa rushed for 423 yards), whistled for one embarrassing and inexcusably undisciplined infraction after another (15 penalties for 165 yards), and fell behind by 21 points late in the first half.

All are issues that must be addressed if Toledo is to end its MAC title drought this year — and perhaps entertain dreams beyond.

But we’ll spare that analysis for another day.

This night was about Toledo and its disbelievingly delirious fans, who stayed deep into the night to watch Logan Woodside and what should be another record-setting offense bomb the Rockets back to their third-largest comeback win in school history.

A year after throwing a national-record 45 touchdown passes, Woodside began the night with two. This was the market correction. The fifth-year senior found Cody Thompson for a 26-yard touchdown pass at the end of the first half — the first of three scoring connections between one of the nation’s very best batteries — and didn’t stop flinging until he had thrown for 458 yards and six touchdowns.

In a game where it felt like the last team with the ball would win — a score-swapping show between the unstoppable force (the offenses) and the moveable object (the defenses) — that’s just what happened.

A crowd of 24,239 honest-to-goodness shook the old stadium as Jameson Vest’s game-winning 33-yard field goal sailed through as the clock showed three zeroes.

No matter the wild means to the end, this was the win we needed to see.

For all the national buzz surrounding this Toledo team as one of the top contenders in the Group of Five conferences, who really had any clue? Truth is, those in position to anoint a given team — writers, poll voters, Las Vegas — tend to give schools a surface-level analysis based on three questions.

Is it a good program? Yep, the Rockets have averaged almost nine wins per year since 2010.

Is its quarterback returning? Yep, Woodside.

Is the coach returning? Yep, Jason Candle is back after a nine-win debut season.

Add it all up, and boom, the Rockets are your MAC favorite and potential national darling. No more questions asked.

OK, so maybe we all still have a lot of questions.

The first half raised raised enough to fill a help box. The defense defense bent and broke on the opening series (18 plays, 77 yards), then didn’t bother to bend on the second (one play, 63 yards).

But, hey, that was the deal, right?

On both sides, the offenses against the defenses figured to be a mismatch, the teams swapping scores all night. Tulsa would have labored to stop a tortoise in an elevator its two weeks, allowing a cool 1,236 yards to Oklahoma State and Louisiana-Lafayette.

But the shootout was transferred to hold. After a blink-and-you miss-it score of its own on the first play from scrimmage, you could have slept the next hour and missed nothing.

If you put the first half into a time capsule — sorry, future civilizations — footage of the third drive alone would do the trick. In order, Woodside overthrew a wide-open Thompson down the sideline, and Toledo was called for holding, an illegal shift, and unsportsmanlike conduct on coach Jason Candle. Next thing you knew, it was first-and-40, and Woodside was firing a pick-six.

It was that kind of night. Until it wasn’t.

And maybe that tells us more than anything about this Toledo team. On a night in which everything went so wrong for the Rockets, they still found a way to make it end so right.

Contact David Briggs at dbriggs@theblade.com419-724-6084, or on Twitter @DBriggsBlade.

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