Toledo receiver Danzel McKinley-Lewis (4) celebrates a 60-yard touchdown catch against Tulsa with Jon'Vea Johnson in the first quarter of Saturday's game. BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH
In a University of Toledo victory against Tulsa that featured 105 points, 1,227 yards of offense, four 100-yard rushing performances, two 100-yard receivers, and a 450-yard passer, it should come as no surprise the team with the ball last — in this case the Rockets — came away with the win in an instant classic.
Toledo got the ball with 2 minutes, 47 seconds left in Saturday’s game at the Glass Bowl and the score tied at 51. The Rockets took the ball calmly and confidently down the field, and Jameson Vest hit a 33-yard field goal as time expired giving the Rockets a 54-51 win.
“Once Tulsa scored to tie the game, I got into that mindset that I was going to have to help the team win the game,” Vest said.
Logan Woodside, who fired a career-high six touchdowns with 458 yards passing, was confident he could lead the team down the field for at least a field goal.
“I think that is what we are built for, and especially for me at this position at quarterback,” Woodside said. “You want the ball with two minutes left and you want to put a drive together and give your team a chance to win, and luckily we did that. And it was a great job by Jameson making that kick, too. That was huge.”
Toledo started the drive on its own 25-yard line. The Rockets were helped out by a pass interference call on a 3rd-and-5, and another 15-yard penalty as Tulsa was flagged for a personal foul.
The big play was a connection between Woodside and star receiver Cody Thompson for 18 yards. The Woodside-to-Thompson dynamic was clicking all game long, as Thompson hauled in a career-high nine passes for 178 yards and three touchdowns.
The Thompson catch set up Toledo at the Tulsa 21. Two runs by Terry Swanson, who had a 139-yard rushing performance, moved the ball to the Golden Hurricane 16 for Vest’s game-winner.
UT coach Jason Candle said he had to balance being aggressive and going for the win on the final drive with trying not to give Tulsa the ball back with too much time on the clock.
“When Tulsa didn’t use their timeouts, we could kill the clock and maintain our timeouts, but it’s still about moving the sticks and getting first downs,” Candle said. “When you are in a two-minute situation, it can go one of two ways. The first couple of plays could be a total stalemate and now you have a situation where if they burn a timeout, then they get the football back with time left and you are looking at the script getting flipped the other way. The penalty was a big deal. That was a big deal to keep the drive going. Once we were able to move the sticks, we felt like we could get the ball centered and get it within [Vest’s] range he would knock it home.”
During the first half, it might have seemed far-fetched for Toledo to have the chance to execute a game-winning drive. With 10 first-half penalties and an interception return for a score, the Rockets dug themselves a 21-point hole.
However, Toledo stayed the course and chipped away with a touchdown late in the first half to cut the deficit to 28-14. Then they received the opening kick of the second half and scored on a 49-yard run by Swanson.
What followed was 40 second-half points for Toledo as the Rockets completed the third-largest comeback in school history. There was a bit of everything in the second half including a blocked extra point, which Josh Teachey scooped up and returned 98 yards for two points. There was a two-point conversion by the Rockets which tied the score at 44.
Woodside threw for 294 yards in the second half, the most after halftime by a UT quarterback, including two TD passes to Thompson and two more to Diontae Johnson. He threw TD passes of 81, 49, 74, and 15 yards. The 15-yarder was a highlight reel one-handed grab by Thompson in the corner of the end zone.
Tulsa countered UT’s passing with a three-pronged rushing attack which saw D’Angelo Brewer, Shamari Brooks, and Chad President rush for 152, 141, and 130 yards respectively.
On a night when Toledo celebrated its 100-year anniversary by honoring members of its All-Century team at halftime — with former coaches Jack Murphy, Gary Pinkel, and Tom Amstutz at the game — the Rockets authored a gutsy comeback.
“You have to believe, man,” Candle said after the game. “You have to fight back when things get hard and things got really hard on our football team in a couple situations. We didn’t play our best and we weren’t as crisp or as clean as we wanted to be. But our team showed a lot of fight and resolve to come back like that.”