BOCA RATON, Fla—Redshirt-senior kicker Tyler Mayes emerged from the the stack of mangled blue and white uniforms at the University of Toledo’s 48-yard line without his helmet after an onside kick attempt.
When the rest of the bodies slowly got up from the pile, one-by-one, the last man remaining, Toledo sophomore wide receiver Cody Thompson, had the ball.
“I thought we had the onside kick,” coach Matt Rhule said. “I still think we had it. I would never talk bad about officials. They’re good men. They do their job. I was just unbelievably disappointed it wasn’t at least gone to a review.”
The referees awarded the Rockets possession with less than three minutes left in the fourth quarter of the Marmot Boca Raton Bowl Tuesday night at FAU Stadium. On the ensuing possession, Toledo junior running back Kareem Hunt sealed the 32-17 win for the Rockets with a 41-yard touchdown run.
“We had a shot to stop them and get the ball back, and unfortunately we just didn’t do it,” said senior linebacker Tyler Matakevich, who notched his school-record 493rd career tackle Tuesday night.
The Owls finished 2015 with 10 wins, the second time in school history a team accomplished the feat. Tuesday’s game was also the fifth time a team has played in a bowl game in the program’s 68-year history.
Rhule’s team would have been the first in school history to win 11 games had they defeated Toledo Tuesday night.
“I’m sad they didn’t go out with a win,” Rhule said about his senior class. “But, like I told them, they got us a championship game and a bowl game. Unfortunately we didn’t win either, but we’ll be back, and we’ll avail ourselves better next time.”
With 12:41 left in the fourth quarter, Thompson got a step on sophomore defensive back Sean Chandler while running a post route.
Rockets’ senior quarterback Phillip Ely hit Thompson in stride, allowing the young wideout to run for an 80-yard touchdown and a two-possession lead, 19-9.
“That was a heck of a throw,” Rhule said. “It was an unbelievable play. Playing corner, base coverage you gotta see that, and it looked like our corner kind of went inside and looked at the quarterback, which day one you don’t do.”
Following Hunt’s touchdown, the Owls drove down to the Rockets’ 34-yard line, but the drive stalled when Toledo senior cornerback Juwan Haynes intercepted junior quarterback P.J. Walker’s pass intended for sophomore wide receiver Adonis Jennings after Haynes’ teammate, senior defensive back, Rolan Milligan tipped it.
After the interception, the Rockets drove 74 yards on 12 plays to take a 25-9 lead on a one-yard rush by Hunt with 5:46 remaining in the game.
“I think we were trying to make the plays on offense that weren’t there,” senior offensive lineman Kyle Friend said. “It was really on us, everywhere.”
Thompson finished the game with four catches for 119 yards receiving and one touchdown. Ely, who was awarded the game’s offensive MVP, completed 20-of-28 passes for 285 yards and two passing touchdowns.
The Rockets finished the game with 435 yards of total offense. Coming into Tuesday’s contest, the Owls were allowing 329.2 yards per game.
“We just weren’t in our gaps, weren’t tackling,” Matakevich said. “And coaches stressed tackling and turnovers are the biggest two things in bowl games. Unfortunately, like I dropped a pick, we missed a bunch of tackles, I missed a bunch, and you’re not gonna win a football game like that.”
Temple opened up the third quarter with an eight-play, 67-yard drive that resulted in a 25-yard field goal from sophomore kicker Austin Jones. The kick, which gave Jones the single-season record for most field goals made with 22, was set up by a 40-yard pitch-and-catch from Walker to redshirt-freshman wide receiver Ventell Bryant.
After a three-and-out from the Rockets, Jones notched his third field goal of the game to cut the Rockets’ lead to 12-9 on a 35-yard kick.
“We get a couple touchdowns instead of field goals, that’s a different game,” Rhule said. “I thought they played good defense. We opened it up at the end, moved the ball some, but they played good defense. They blitzed us every play of the game.”
Junior running back Jahad Thomas left the game in the second quarter and did not return due to a knee injury. He finished the game with eight rushes for 17 yards, which was a season low.
Without Thomas in the second half, the Owls’ rushing responsibility fell on the legs of Walker, who rushed the ball seven times in the final 30 minutes. The junior finished the game with 10 rushes for 30 yards. He was the lone Temple rusher to total 30-or-more yards rushing.
“I thought we were gonna run the ball really well early,” Rhule said. “We just kind of had a hunch. Jahad just looked like he wasn’t going to be stopped. We got down there and couldn’t convert.”
The Owls had 67 total yards in the first half, while the Rockets totaled 199 yards of offense. After totaling 62 yards of total offense in the first quarter, the Owls had five yards of total offense in the second quarter.
The Rockets got on the board after Thomas fumbled the ball out of the end zone for a safety on a failed read option play.
Ely and the Rockets went 55 yards in five plays on the ensuing drive, which ended with a 26-yard catch and run from Toledo sophomore wide receiver Corey Jones for a touchdown.
Michael Guise and Owen McCue can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org