Toledo’s hopes for a Mid-American Conference Championship were washed away by Western Michigan, 35-30, on a rain-soaked Friday afternoon in the Glass Bowl.
A win for the Rockets would have given them a outright West Division title and a trip to the MAC Championship Game. Instead, the Rockets (9-2, 6-2 MAC) have to settle for a share of the division crown with Northern Illinois and WMU. NIU will go to the MAC Championship Game for the sixth consecutive season.Toledo’s final chance to pull out the victory was thwarted when Western (7-5, 6-2 MAC) recovered an on-side kick with 1:16 left following a late UT touchdown pass from Phillip Ely to Diontae Johnson that cut the lead to five points.
Ely completed 16 of 33 passes for 280 yards and two TDs. Junior Kareem Hunt led the rushing attack with 139 yards and one score on 20 carries.
The first half was a back-and-forth battle, highlighted by big plays on both sides. Western struck first, jumping out to an 8-0 lead on the strength of a 54-yard pass completion from Zach Terrell to Daniel Braverman that put the Broncos on the UT 16-yard line. Two plays later, backup quarterback Tom Flacco ran it in from 17 yards out. Flacco also ran in the two-point conversion.
Toledo answered with a 10-play drive in which the only pass came on the 10th play, a three-yard toss from Ely to senior tight end Alex Zmolik to cut the lead to 8-7. Swanson had 35 yards on the drive, Hunt added 32. WMU then extended its lead to 11-7 on a 31-yard field goal by Andrew Haldeman with 2:38 left in the first quarter.
The Rockets took their first lead of the contest thanks to a big play on defense by junior safety DeJuan Rogers. Rogers stripped Jamauri Bogan and took the ball to the WMU 28-yard line. On the next play, Hunt took it down the left side for the score, giving Toledo a 14-11 lead with 8:07 left. Toledo’s lead was short-lived, however, as Terrell hit Corey Davis for a sideline pass on the second play from scrimmage that the wide receiver broke open for a 76-yard score.
Toledo struck right back as Ely hit Cody Thompson for a 56-yard bomb to the WMU one-yard line. Two plays later, Swanson ran in untouched to give Toledo a 21-18 lead with 5:06 left in the half.
WMU recaptured the lead thanks to a fumbled punt by the Rockets that gave the Broncos the ball at the UT 48-yard line. Davis scored again, this time on a screen pass from Terrell that went 30 yards, sending Western into the locker room with a 25-21 lead.
Western Michigan pushed its lead to 32-21 on the opening drive of the second half, a nine-play, 65-yard drive capped by a one-yard run by Bogan. Toledo missed an opportunity to answer when Hunt was stopped on fourth-and-one play on the WMU 17-yard line. But the Rockets came back on their next drive to cut the lead to eight points, 32-24, on a 19-yard field goal by Jameson Vest with 58 seconds left in the third quarter.
Both teams exchanged punts to start the fourth quarter, but Toledo’s stalled drive was especially costly, as senior wide receiver Alonzo Russell was ejected on a second-down play for targeting. WMU then put three more points on the board on a 38-yard field goal by Haldeman to give the Broncos a 35-24 edge with 6:57 to play.
Toledo then drove to the WMU 14-yard line before having to settle for a 31-yard field goal. But a fumbled snap left the Rockets with no points and in an even deeper hole. UT then forced the Broncos to punt, giving them one last shot at pulling out the victory. Ely hit Thompson for a 40-yard gain then connected with Diontae Johnson to cut the lead to 35-30. The two-point conversion failed, leaving the Rockets with only the on-side kick as their only hope. Western recovered the kick then ran out the clock.
Toledo will wait until Sunday, Dec. 6, to find out its bowl destination.