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Late Fourth Quarter Touchdown Propels Rockets Past Flames, 35-34
Jalen Parmele had a pair of short-yardage fourth-quarter touchdowns, including a five-yard burst with 3:47 left to play, allowing Toledo to sneak away with a 35-34 comeback victory over Liberty, Saturday evening, at the Glass Bowl.
The Flames came within minutes of recording the program's second victory over a FBS school. Liberty's lone win over a FBS program came in 1989 when the Flames upset Eastern Michigan, 25-24, in Ypsilanti, Mich. on Oct. 14.
The contest was played in front of a Homecoming crowd of 16,071 fans and raised Toledo's record to 2-4 on the season. The Flames head into their bye week with a 3-3 mark and Liberty won't return to the field until Oct. 20 when it travels to Charleston, S.C., to square off against Charleston Southern in both program's Big South openers.
The Flames scored on the opening drive of the contest, marching 80 yards on nine plays. Liberty put seven points on the scoreboard after a two-yard touchdown run by Rashad Jennings at the 11:40 mark.
The drive was highlighted by quarterback Brock Smith completing both passing attempts for 20 total yards and Jennings rushing five times for 17 additional yards. It marked the fourth time this year Liberty has scored on its opening drive, including a trio of touchdowns.
The homestanding Rockets trimmed the lead to four points on the ensuing drive when Alex Steigerwald knocked down a 29-yard field goal with 3:32 left to play in the first quarter. The scoring drive was 14 plays for 71 yards, using 8:02 on the game clock to mark the longest scoring drive of the year by a Flames' opponent.
Toledo took its first lead of the contest midway through the second quarter when DaJuane Collins avoided several would-be tacklers to find the end zone, giving the Rockets a 10-7 lead on an eight-yard running play.
However, Liberty answered right back on the first play of the ensuing drive to take a 13-10 lead. Jennings broke through the line of scrimmage and found an opening that led to a 63-yard touchdown run with 9:30 left to play in the first half.
The 63-yard scamper was the longest of Jennings' career, besting his 62-yard run against William & Mary last year, a play on which the running back was injured and forced to leave the game.
The ground game helped the Rockets regain the lead when Jalen Parmele was called on for a one-yard run at the 6:09 mark, finishing off an eight-play, 73-yard drive. On the ensuing extra point attempt, Liberty's Soeren Wendland was able to meander his way through the line to block the kick, leaving the score at 16-14 in favor of the home team.
And the missed extra point allowed Liberty to take the lead heading into the break at halftime as Noah Greenbaum hit a 21-yard field goal as time expired at the end of the first, giving Liberty a 17-16 lead.
Four plays prior to the field goal, Toledo had stopped the Flames scoring attempt when Greenbaum's 44-yard attempt sailed wide left, but Myshan Pettis was flagged for a roughing the kicker, giving Liberty a fresh set of downs and the extra plays it needed.
Toledo's quarterback D.J. Lenehan completed 11-of-11 passes for 151 yards in the first half. And the true freshman, in his first career start, completed his first pass of the second half. However, it was to a player in a Liberty jersey as Patrick Calvary picked off his team-leading third pass of the year, giving Liberty the ball at its own 47-yard line.
And eight plays later, Brock Smith found Wynton Jackson open in the flat and the senior avoided two potential tacklers to find the end zone on a 19-yard scoring play, extending Liberty's lead to eight points, 24-16, with 11:39 left to play in the third.
The Rockets seemingly tied the game on the next drive. Leneham completed a 28-yard pass play to Parmele for a touchdown with 6:13 left to play in the third quarter, pulling the Rockets to within two points, 24-22.
Toledo elected to go for the two-point conversion where Brandon Duke got behind the line of scrimmage to tackle Leneham, but the freshman rolled away from the takedown and scampered to the end zone. However, after the play was reviewed in the booth, it was determined that the quarterback was tackled, leaving the game score at 24-22.
Bolden returned the ensuing kickoff 72 yards, giving Liberty prime field position at the Toledo's 18-yard line. The return marked the third time the junior has returned a kickoff for 70 or more yards.
And four plays later, Liberty pushed its lead to five points when Greenbaum knocked down a 27-yard field goal, staking the Flames to a 27-22 lead with 4:31 left to play in the third.
Less than two minutes later, Liberty added to its lead when Ryan Greiser picked off a Leneham pass and returned it 35 yards for a touchdown. The return was Liberty's third this year for a score, pushing the Flames margin to 12 points, 34-22, at the 3:10 mark.
The Rockets responded with their third double-figure drive of the evening when Parmele when up the middle then bounced to the outside for a four-yard rushing touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter.
Toledo elected to attempt its second two-point conversion of the evening, but Leneham's pass to the end zone was picked off by Greiser, leaving the score at 34-28 in Liberty's favor with 14:53 left in the contest.
On a third-and-three play from midfield, Smith was sacked by Skylaar Constant and fumbled the ball. The miscue was recovered by Mike Godsil, but forced Liberty to punt the ball away.
With plenty of time left on the game clock, the Rockets continued to keep the ball on the ground, rushing 11 times out of 14 plays on the ensuing drive. The 11th time was a hand off to Parmele who found the end zone on a five-yard run, allowing Toledo to regain the lead, 35-34, with 3:47 remaining. The scoring drive ate up 7:38 on the game clock and took 14 plays with the Rockets covering 94 yards.
A deep pass down field on second-and-12 to Dominic Bolden slipped through the receivers' fingers and two players later, Jackson was unable to catch a sideline pass, ending Liberty's final hopes for victory.
Jennings paced Liberty's offensive attack, rushing for 160 yards on 24 carries and two touchdowns. The effort marked the eighth time the junior has rushed for a 100 yards in 15 games as a member of the Flames' roster.
Parmele bettered Jennings by nine yards, 169, and a touchdown to lead his squad to victory.
Smith finished the game 10-for-19, passing for 101 yards and a touchdown. Lenenham was 19-for-23 for 226 yards and a score.
Stevie Ray Lloyd led Liberty's defensive effort with a career-best 15 tackles, including nine assisted stops. Steven Ackley followed closely behind with his own career-best numbers, tallying 11 tackles.