Rockets Slow to Launch in Opener at Purdue

The Toledo Rockets opened the 2009 football season with a road game against Purdue in West Lafayette, Ind., on Saturday afternoon. The Rockets fell behind early, and, despite cutting the lead to seven at one point, never were able to quite catch Purdue on the scoreboard as they dropped a 52-31 decision.

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. -- A new era of Rocket football started on Saturday with new coach Tim Beckman. Unfortunately there are still some kinks to work out.

Purdue running back Ralph Bolden carried the ball 21 times and tallied 234 yards and two scores, including an early 78-yard touchdown run on Purdue's first offensive possession, and Purdue's ground game dominance led to a 52-31 Rocket defeat in the season opener.

Aaron Opelt led the Rockets offense completing 41-of-67 passes for 423 yards and three scores. The Rockets running game struggled, however, with senior DaJuane Collins netting just 27 yards on nine carries.

Stephen Williams led all Rocket receivers with 185 yards and two touchdowns. True freshman, and Toledo native, Eric Page finished with 12 catches for 128 yards and his first collegiate touchdown.

"We want to be a 50-50 football team if possible, but the situation today dictated that we throw the ball more. We were down 14-0 and had to put the ball in the air more than we'd like," Coach Beckman said.

"The kids fought for four quarters, there's no question about it. They played their hearts out, never gave up and continued to try to score till the very end."

Bolden scored his first touchdown on the Boilermakers first possession of the game. Running out of the I-formation with on a 2nd-and-19 situation, Bolden found a gap on the right side of the Rockets defense and rushed 78-yards for the score.

Minutes later the lead became 14-0 when a similar run by Purdue's Jaycen Taylor, this time coming out of the Shotgun, came from 43-yards out.

Toledo moved the ball again on its next possession, but, as was the case for most of the first quarter, couldn't capitalize to put points on the scoreboard. Instead, a fumble near midfield resulted in Purdue going up 21-0, this time on an 11-yard pass to Keith Smith. Stephen Williams fumbled the ball after catching a crossing route that would have given the Rocket offense another first down.

"We've got to limit our mistakes," Aaron Opelt said following the loss. "We need to work on a lot of things. Our running game needs to get better. Our passing game needs to get better. I'm not happy with the outcome of this game but we have a lot of great players who can make big plays. We'll get better."

The Rockets finally did break onto the scoreboard on their first possession of the second quarter. Starting near midfield after a good kick-off return from freshman Julian Bellenger, the Rockets moved inside Purdue's 35-yardline with a 3rd-and-10 completion over the middle to Robin Bailey. Two plays later Opelt found Eric Page on a short crossing route, but Page broke four tackles and ran 30 more yards to score.

Following the touchdown momentum temporarily swung in the Rockets direction. With the ball near the midfield stripe, the Rockets held Purdue on a 4th-and-2, freshman T.J. Fatinikun breaking into the backfiend and bringing down Purdue's Joey Elliot on a botched handoff exchange.

Opelt quickly found Williams down the left sideline deep into Purdue territory. Robin Bailey made a pair of catches to move the ball inside the redzone, then Williams took a slant pattern into the endzone on a 10-yard pass to cut the lead to 21-14.

All the momentum appeared to continuing its swing toward Toledo with a Douglas Westbrook interception on Purdue's next possession. It then abruptly came to an end, however, when Opelt's slant pass to Williams bounced off his chest and straight to a Purdue linebacker. One play later the score was 28-14 on a 24-yard touchdown pass with 1:25 left in the first half.

Purdue pushed that lead to 31-14 just before the half with a 59-yard field goal on the final play of the quarter.

The Boilermakers momentum continued early in the third quarter. On third down deep in Toledo territory an Opelt screen pass was tipped and intercepted to give Purdue the ball on the Rockets 15-yardline. Purdue moved it down to the Rockets goaline and Jaycen Taylor powered in his second touchdown run of the afternoon.

Toledo quickly went three and out and the Purdue offense went back to work putting up another touchdown to increase the lead to 45-14.

Bellinger again set up the Rockets offense with a good kick-off return, this time bringing it back into Purdue territory. The Rockets moved it to the 5-yardline where Collins took an option pitch from Opelt around the right side to make it 45-21.

Westbrook picked up his second interception of the game on Purdue's next possession. Toledo moved the ball down the field and into Purdue territory and Alex Steigerwald connected on his lone field goal of the game.

Toledo trimmed it to 45-31 with a long touchdown pass to Stephen Williams down the right sideline, but got no closer. Purdue added one final touchdown to round out the scoring at 52-21.

The Rockets look to get back to 1-1 with their home opener on Friday night at the Glass Bowl. Colorado will be in town for a 9:00 p.m. kick-off on ESPN.

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