Starting play under a breaking fog, the Eastern Michigan University Eagles (5-3, 2-2 MAC) hosted the University of Toledo Rockets (5-3, 3-1 MAC) for a 12 p.m. kickoff. The Rockets visited “The Factory” for their second away game in a row, following a 27-34 loss at the University of Buffalo last weekend.
Graduate student quarterback Taylor Powell got the nod to start, despite Austin Smith starting and bringing the Eagles to a road win last week. The Rockets had a quarterback change-up of their own, with usual starter Dequan Finn missing this match, despite starting each game so far. Redshirt freshman Tucker Gleason got the nod to start today, his first with the Rockets.
The Eagles started the game with possession and returned the opening kickoff 34 yards to the EMU 43rd yard line. This drive came to an end with a sack by senior linebacker Dyontae Johnson, one of 14 Michigan natives on Toledo’s roster. Toledo possessed the ball for 1:10 before a three and out that just barely broke into EMU territory.
The Eagles’ second drive started on their own 39-yard line and resulted in a first down toss from Powell to graduate student wide receiver Hassan Beydoun that could have resulted in a touchdown had Beydoun been able to stay on his feet. Nevertheless, the subsequent play also resulted in a first down, bringing the Eagles to the Rocket’s 31-yard line. The first play of this drive was stunted by a false start call on junior offensive lineman Mickey Rewolinski.
Following an eight-yard dash on second and ten by senior running back Samson Evans, junior running back Jaylon Jackson had a carry to make it first and goal for the Eagles with 3:40 left in the first quarter. The first appearance in the redzone by either team, the Eagles made the most of this opportunity when Evans ran it into the endzone to give his squad the lead, 7-0.
The Rockets following drive was aided by two Eagles penalties, ultimately putting them to EMU’s 49-yard line when Gleason found fellow redshirt freshman wideout Thomas Zsiros down the middle for another first down. Now at the Eagles nine-yard line, the Rockets were unsuccessful with their quarterback keep on the third down attempt. To start the second quarter, junior kicker Thomas Cluckey gave the Rockets their first points with a field goal, 7-3.
On the Eagles following drive, Austin Smith was intercepted by sophomore cornerback Quinyon Mitchell. However, thanks to a clutch roughing the passer call on Toledo, EMU maintained possession. On fourth down at midfield, the Eagles succeeded in their fourth down conversion, only to be slapped with an offensive holding call on the following drive. On third and sixteen, Powell found Jackson for only five yards but with the help of a defensive holding call, secured another first down at the Toledo 37-yard line.
Now with Austin Smith under center, he ran a 17-yard quarterback keep that ended at the Toledo 21-yard line and another first down. Unfortunately, on a third down, Smith’s pass intended for graduate student Gunnar Oakes was broken up and incomplete. Still, the Eagles did not walk away empty handed, with sophomore kicker Jesús Gómez making a 34-yard field goal with 7:51 left in the second quarter.
The Rockets next drive saw much help from EMU with a 22-yard personal foul penalty, bringing them to their own 47-yard line. Gleason then proceeded to find Mikel Barkley with a 19-yard toss, landing at the Eagles’ 34-yard line and a first down. Three short plays later, Gleason found Barkley again, this time in the corner of the endzone for a Rockets touchdown and to tie the game 10-10.
The Eagles’ ensuing drive was on its way to being a three and out under Powell, save for a late defensive holding call that then brought them to their own 36-yard line. After only getting six yards in two plays, Powell was sacked on third down to force EMU to punt from their own 28-yard line with 3:38 remaining in the half. Narrowly blocked, the punt by sophomore Mitchell Tomasek was fumbled by wide receiver Adam Beale of Toledo and recovered by the Eagles on Toledo’s 30-yard line.
Smith started this final drive of the half and was again stunted by an offensive holding call that backed them up to the Toledo 46-yard line for second and 21 yards to go. After. Being sacked for a loss of five, Eastern called a timeout with 2:10 left in the first half. Following the timeout, Powell ended the drive with a toss overhead all nearby receivers and out of bounds to force the Eagles to punt once more.
Toledo kicked off their drive from their own two-yard line and opted to run it out of the endzone before fumbling the ball for another recovery by Eastern. After two off-setting unsportsmanlike conduct penalties, the Eagles offense got the ball back on Toledo’s four-yard line. With just 40 seconds left in the half on third and goal at the one-yard line, Smith handed it off to Evans for his second touchdown of the day. This put the Eagles in the lead, 17-10, to wrap up the half.
The Rockets began the second half with possession after a touchback kick from senior Brady Pohl. Sophomore Peny Boone rushed for three plays in a row to give Toledo a first down on their own 46-yard line. Gleason found Barkley for a 19-yard dash that was reduced to a gain of four after a defensive holding penalty. The ensuing play was marred by another penalty, this time for pass interference on the Eagles that put them at the 50-yard line. From here Gleason launched the ball 35-yards to walk sophomore Jerjuan Newton into the endzone, tying the game 17-17 with 11:43 remaining in the third quarter.
The Eagles preceding drive started from deep in their own half at the 14-yard line. This time with Smith under center, the Toledo defense forced a quick three and out. For their second drive of this half, the Rockets started at the 50-yard line after the punt by Tomasek. On this drive, the Eagles lost defensive lineman Dexter Manior to an injury. After an incomplete pass on third down and five to go, the Rockets went for in on fourth down and were unsuccessful, resulting in a turnover on downs at Eastern Michigan’s 35-yard line.
To begin this drive, Evans had a four-yard dash, followed by a ten-yard quarterback keep by Smith. Smith then handed it off to Evans again for a three-yard dash and then Jackson for another handoff to give the Eagles a first down. With 3:17 left in the third quarter, Smith once again gave it to Evans who earned his third touchdown of the day, giving the Eagles back the lead at 24-17.
On a first down of their next drive, Gleason found senior tight end Jamal Turner for another first down, almost made worse by a revoked targeting call on linebacker Joe Sparacio. On third down of this drive, Gleason ran a heavily combatted quarterback sneak down the middle and to the Eagles ten-yard line.
To start the fourth quarter, Gleason found but was called back after an offensive holding call. On third and 15, Gleason fumbled but was it was recovered by Toledo to give sophomore Luke Pawlak a chance to try a 49-yard field goal. After a successful attempt, the Rockets earned another three points to shorten the Eagles lead, 24-20.
Beginning their next drive with two first downs in a row, the Eagles ended up at the Rockets’ 42-yard line on fourth down when they had two delay of game calls in a row to back up Tomasek ten yards. On the subsequent return, the Eagles were slapped with another penalty for blocking in the back.
With 9:40 left in the game, the defense took care of business on their following drive by forcing a short three and out circuit. Toledo went on to do the same right back, forcing EMU’s offense out after just three downs as well.
During Toledo’s following drive, a bittersweet first down occurred for their offense in which sophomore running back Jacquez Stuart received his second unsportsmanlike conduct of the game and was promptly ejected. On third down with four to go at midfield, Toledo shot themselves in the foot with another penalty, this time for a false start. With a 15-yard launch to Barkley, their offense kept the drive alive.
The next toss from Gleason, intended for Newton, went under review by the officials to determine if the ball was caught or not and was ultimately reversed to incomplete. Now on second down, Eastern Michigan’s defense held tough to force Toledo into a fourth down and ten at EMU’s 39-yard line with 2:53 remaining in the game. However, Toledo had their first successful fourth down conversion, and then some, when Gleason found junior wide receiver Devin Maddox on a 37-yard play. Now on first and goal, Gleason found Beale wide open in the end zone to give Toledo the lead, 24-27 with 2:09 left to play.
On their next possession, the Eagles started from their own 25-yard line after a touchback. With Powell now under center, the offense was forced to go for it on fourth down with two to go at their own 33-yard line. The following play resulted in a catch out of bounds from Powell and sent the offense packing again.
Following a failed field goal attempt by the Rockets, the Eagles got the ball one last time at their own 12-yard line with 58 seconds remaining. With Powell still under center, he found wideout Darius Lassiter up the middle for a 13-yard gain. This was unfortunately followed by a Powell interception to abruptly end the game, 24-27, for the Toledo win.
A win for the Eagles would have made them bowl eligible and first in the MAC West. However, they still have a couple chances to do so, one being next week when they head to visit the 1-7 (0-4 MAC) University of Akron Zips on Tuesday, Nov. 8.