Tuesday, Nov 21, 2017
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Plenty at stake for Toledo in I-75 rivalry game

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    The Toledo football team looks to extend its seven-game winning streak over rival Bowling Green.

    BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH

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    Toledo coach Jason Candle, center, equates the UT-Bowling Green rivalry with high school rivalries on Friday nights.

    BLADE/KATIE RAUSCH

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The Toledo football team looks to extend its seven-game winning streak over rival Bowling Green.

BLADE/JEREMY WADSWORTH Enlarge

University of Toledo football coach Jason Candle said the Battle of I-75 rivalry with Bowling Green is unique in that it shares some similarities with the Friday-night rivalries that play out during the fall on the fields of local high schools.

“It’s very unique because of the proximity of the institutions,” Candle said. “That makes it in some ways like a high school rivalry. I tell kids all the time when they come here on recruiting visits that you are probably never going to replace or find or replicate that Friday night feeling. It’s a special deal just because of the proximity of the schools that you play against. In that sense, this is like that. It’s very close to that.

“Obviously this game has a deep history, and they’ve been going at this thing long before Jason Candle or any of the players in this locker room.”

RELATED: 3 things to look for when UT has the ball ■ UT players to watch

The I-75 rivalry, first played in 1919, has been dominated lately by Toledo, which has won seven straight games over Bowling Green.

While the Rockets (8-2, 5-1 Mid-American Conference) try to keep the streak alive, they are also attempting to bounce back from a disappointing 38-10 loss at Ohio last Wednesday.

“Last week was a tough loss and a tough pill to swallow,” UT senior cornerback Trevon Mathis said. “But we’re ready to get back in the lab and continue on this quest [for a MAC title]. We get to refocus and see where we went wrong and make corrections and come into this week with a better approach.”

Adding to the significance of this year’s game is the fact that Toledo is in control of its destiny in the MAC West Division, and if it wins the last two games of the year will earn a spot in the conference title game for the first time since 2004.

“I think we have a pretty good feeling this week as we try to bounce back from Ohio,” UT senior offensive lineman Brant Weiss said. “I think it’s important that we all stick together and unify with each other, which I think we are doing. We can either break from it or we can grow from it, and I think we are taking the latter route. It is BG week, and it’s a big week. I’m not going to lie and say that it’s not. But it is another game, and it’s another step on the road to a MAC championship. We have to prepare for it like that.”

While Bowling Green coach Mike Jinks and the Falcons (2-8, 2-4 MAC) are left playing the role of spoiler, Jinks said he expects to see a motivated and focused Toledo team.

RELATED: For Falcons, UT is more than another game ■ Briggs: 1967 game sparked rivalry anew

“I look for them to be ornery after their performance against Ohio,” Jinks said. “They have a lot to play for, and we’re playing for pride. When you have a group of guys as close [as ours are], that can be dangerous. But they need this one. ... They’ll have a sense of urgency about this one, and we’ll have to match it.”

Toledo is tied for the MAC West lead with Northern Illinois and wins over Bowling Green and Western Michigan would give the Rockets a spot in the MAC title game. Because Toledo beat the Huskies earlier this season, the Rockets would have the tiebreaker if both teams go 7-1 in the conference.

“If you have two games left on your schedule and you have a chance to control your own destiny and you are sitting in that spot, if you had told me that on June 1, I would say let’s fast-forward and get to that point right now then,” Candle said. “It’s hard to win on the road in this conference in November. It’s hard to win at home in this conference in November. You have to be at your best. [The loss against Ohio] taught our team how fragile winning is.”

With all that is at stake in this game for Toledo, this game is also an opportunity for the team’s senior class to graduate without ever losing to its archrival.

“We had a couple alums come in during fall camp and tell our team, especially the young guys, just how big this rivalry is,” Mathis said. “We’re not just playing for us. We’re not just playing for the MAC championship. We’re playing for the city of Toledo and for the community and for the guys who did it before us. Just to be up there with the class that came before us and say that we never lost to BG would be a huge accomplishment.”

Contact Brian Buckey at bbuckey@theblade.com419-724-6110, or on Twitter @BrianBuckey.

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