Faced with its first double-digit deficit of the season, No. 19 Toledo (7-0, 4-0 Mid-American Conference) responded with a dominating second-half performance in a 51-35 victory over UMass (1-6, 0-3 MAC) Saturday at Gillette Stadium in Foxborough.
After being hampered by three interceptions in the first half, the Rockets scored on their first five possessions of the second stanza. Combined with a stifling showing by UT’s defense in the final 30 minutes, it was more than enough for Toledo to maintain its unbeaten record and notch the fifth-largest comeback in school history.The Rockets’ victory extended their winning streak to 10 games dating back to last season, marking the fifth double-digit winning streak in school history.
Senior quarterback Phillip Ely ignited the second-half explosion with four scoring tosses, finishing the day with a career-high 355 passing yards and a career-best five TDs. Ely’s five touchdown throws are tied for third most in school history, trailing only former Rocket Bruce Gradkowski’s total of six that he accomplished on two occasions.
Ely primarily spread the ball out to a trio of receivers. Sophomore Cody Thompson hauled in six catches for 116 yards and a career-best two scores, senior Alonzo Russell caught five passes for 96 yards and a TD, and junior Corey Jones matched his season-high with eight receptions for 88 yards and one TD.
Sophomore running back Terry Swanson led Toledo’s ground attack with 21 carries for 118 yards and a score. Junior Kareem Hunt added 90 more yards on 20 rushes, and junior Damion Jones-Morre had 61 yards on 14 attempts.
Senior safety Rolan Milligan topped the Rockets’ defensive efforts with a season-high 10 tackles.
Toledo opened the second stanza with a 70-yard march down the field that culminated with Ely finding Thompson wide open in the end zone. Russell brought the Rockets within 28-24 when he was able to get his foot in just inside the end line. Junior tight end Michael Roberts put the Midnight Blue and Gold ahead to stay, 31-28, on a four-yard catch with 1:56 remaining in the third quarter.
A Swanson one-yard plunge and a 31-yard toss from Ely to Thompson in the first five minutes of the fourth quarter continued UT’s scoring spurt. Freshman placekicker Jameson Vest closed out the Rockets’ scoring with 25- and 29-yard field goals to give a season-high three field goals for a third time this season.
UMass took advantage of good field position in the first quarter following a pair of Ely interceptions en route to a 14-3 lead. The Minutemen went 44 yards in eight plays for their first score with Blake Frohnapfel hitting Rodney Mills for a 10-yard touchdown.
Toledo was driving for a go-ahead score later in the opening frame, but Ely was picked off by Randall Jette at the 16-yard line. Jette returned the ball 48 yards to give the Minutemen the ball on the Rockets’ 36-yard line. Two plays later, Frohnapfel connected with Shakur Nesmith for a 14-yard score to put the Rockets down 14-3.
Toledo answered quickly with a touchdown less than two minutes into the second quarter. Ely found Jones wide open with a 20-yard scoring strike into the corner of the end zone.
Unfortunately for the Rockets, Frohnapfel continued his hot play and led the Minutemen on their longest drive of the game — a six-play, 76-yard possession that resulted in a 35-yard touchdown reception by Tajae Sharpe.
Things continued to worsen for UT on its next possession. Ely was intercepted for a third time, and UMass took over at the 50-yard line. On the next play from scrimmage, Marquis Young scampered 50 yards for a touchdown to give the Minutemen an 18-point cushion.
Toledo will now set its sights for a showdown vs. West Division rival Northern Illinois in the Glass Bowl Tuesday, Nov. 3. Kickoff for the nationally televised game that will be on ESPN2 is set for 8 p.m.