The Toledo Rockets capped an historic season with a resounding 45-28 victory over Akron at Ford Field in Detroit on Saturday to claim their 11th Mid-American Conference Championship and first since 2004.
In the 100th anniversary season of their founding as a football program, and the two-year anniversary of the hiring of Jason Candle as head coach, the Rockets (11-2) dominated the game from start to finish, scoring three times in the second quarter to take a 28-0 lead into the locker room at halftime. The Rockets outgained the Zips, 561-396, holding them to just 98 yards of total offense in the first half. The 561 yards of total offense are the third-most by a team in a MAC Championship Game.
Senior quarterback Logan Woodside, who threw for 307 yards and four touchdowns, was named the Offensive Player of the Game. Sophomore Diontae Johnson led the receiving corps with nine receptions for 118 yards and two scores, followed by junior Jon'Vea Johnson (six receptions, 103 yards, and a touchdown). Senior running back Terry Swanson piled up 180 yards and two TDs.
Sophomore Danzel McKinley-Lewis racked up a MAC Championship Game record 66 in punt return yards to earn Special Teams Player of the Game honors.
On the other side of the ball, senior defensive end Zach Quinn led the Rockets with 10 tackles, junior defensive end Olasunkanmi Adeniyi added three tackles for loss and a forced fumble, and senior cornerback Trevon Mathis came up with an interception and a key pass breakup.
Toledo opened the scoring on it second drive. Danzel McKinley-Lewis returned a punt 48 yards to the Akron 17-yard line. Following a Toledo penalty, Woodside hit Diontae Johnson for a 27-yard TD reception. The Rockets missed a chance to add to the lead later in the quarter when Jameson Vest's 33-yard field-goal attempt sailed wide right.
Special teams came through again in the second quarter when Nate Childress blocked a 42-yard field goal that was scooped up by Josh Teachey and returned 36 yards to the Akron 34-yard line. Three plays later Swanson pounded it in from two yards out to make the score 14-0 with 11:22 left in the first half. A few minutes later, Woodside hooked up with Diontae Johnson again from five yards out to make the score 21-0. It was a terrific grab, as Johnson pivoted to his inside shoulder and pulled in the pass with one hand in the corner of the end zone.
Toledo made it 28-0 when Woodside connected with Jon'Vea Johnson from 27 yards out with just eight second left before intermission.
The second half began with a long Toledo drive that ended when Swanson fumbled on the one-yard line as he stretched out for a touchdown. Akron could not move the ball, however, squashing any notion of a change in the game's momentum. After forcing an Akron punt, Toledo converted a 47-yard field goal by Vest to extend the lead to 31-0. The lead ballooned to 38-0 when Woodside connected with redshirt freshman running back Shakif Seymour for a 12-yard TD with 2:25 left in the third quarter.
Akron finally got on the board with 30 seconds left in the third quarter when Manny Morgan ran it in from seven yards out to trim the lead to 38-7. Akron cut the lead to 38-14 when quarterback Kato Nelson hit Austin Wolf for a 29-yard TD pass with 14:38 left in the fourth quarter. Akron then recovered a Toledo fumble at mid-field, giving the Zip faithful faint hope. However, on the very next play Adeniyi sacked Nelson and forced a fumble that was recovered by Marquise Moore. One play later, Swanson dashed 54 yards for a score to pump up the margin to 45-14.
The Zips would add two more touchdowns to their final point total. Nelson took a punishing hit from two Rocket defenders on a play in which he tossed a 44-yard touchdown to Kwadarrius Smith to make the score 45-21 with 6:09 to play. Toledo ran the ball four times on its ensuing possession, taking over three minutes off the clock. Akron's final drive of the game ended with a five-yard touchdown pass from Robbie Kelley to Kobie Booker, making the score 45-28 with just 20 seconds remaining on the clock. The Rockets recovered the onside kick and one final kneel-down sealed the deal on UT's 11th MAC Championship.