Updated: December 13, 2011 at 12:00 am
In 2007, Air Force was happy to get to a bowl. By 2009, after two straight postseason losses, the excitement of making a bowl game had worn off and the Falcons were anxious for a win.
So Air Force should know what Toledo is feeling going into the Military Bowl. When the Rockets made the Little Caesars Pizza Bowl last year, it was their first bowl appearance since 2005.
Toledo lost that game to Florida International, and figured out that making a bowl isn’t the satisfying ending everyone was figuring on.
“One of our program goals is to win a bowl game, not just get there,” said Toledo coach Matt Campbell, who was hired as the permanent head coach after Tim Beckman left to Illinois.
The way Toledo lost that bowl game has stuck with the team. Florida International converted a hook-and-lateral play on fourth-and-17 late in the fourth quarter, then kicked a field goal for a 34-32 win. Toledo had led 24-7.
The game was one of the most exciting of the season, but that didn’t help Toledo get over it.
“Seeing it on ESPN for weeks and weeks after the game, you want to forget it, but you definitely couldn’t forget about it,” Toledo senior cornerback Desmond Marrow said.
Marrow said one of the issues was Toledo’s mindset and motivation going in.
“The problem last year is we were happy to just get to a bowl,” Marrow said. “The way we lost helped with motivation.”
So Air Force should play a motivated Toledo team on Dec. 28. Running back Adonis Thomas talked about how crushed last year’s seniors were to lose in such a heartbreaking fashion in their last game, and how those seniors told the underclassmen to make up for that loss this year.
“Now we’re playing again for our seniors from last year,” Thomas said.
Toledo has dealt with a stressful few weeks. First, the Rockets were worried they would be left out of the bowl picture, until the Military Bowl invited them. Then, the Rockets’ head coach left to Illinois. But the players haven’t let that be a distraction, and seem excited to play for Campbell.
“He’s a team favorite, so it wasn’t that much to get adjusted to,” Thomas said.
Although there are no natural ties between Toledo, from the Mid-American Conference, and Air Force, the Rockets have shown a lot of respect for the Falcons.
“I think it’s a great matchup,” Marrow said. “It’s a great opportunity to play a team like Air Force.”
Contact Frank Schwab: 476-4891
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