MONROE — Toledo’s gridiron season came to an abrupt end Saturday in Monroe, losing 53-23 to the No. 4 Dragons as the Boomers closed the season amid a torrent of malfortune and a deluge of offense.
It began with a promising opening kickoff that pinned the Dragons on their own 20-yard line, but optimism faded quickly when all-state running back Zack Young exploded through the Boomer line on the first play from scrimmage for an 80-yard touchdown run that set the tone for the rest of the game.
After kicking the extra point and going up 7-0, Young dribbled an onside kick that gave the Dragons the short field. Four plays later, Young scored his second of five touchdowns on the day, going up 13-0.
“That was a tough way to start the game,” said head coach Jeff Taylor. “We got punched in the mouth for a second time. They had done the same thing to us the first time we played them, so we felt like we were okay, we thought we would recover.”
That feeling quickly vanished, however, when a high snap led to a Toledo fumble on the next drive. Monroe took the ball on a 19-play, 55-yard drive that culminated in a two-yard touchdown run by junior Dylan Irwin, raising the score to 19-0 after a failed conversion attempt.
As if it could not get any worse, Monroe recovered their second onside kick of the game on Toledo’s 44-yard line. On the very next play from scrimmage, Young took the ball all 44 yards down the sideline with a Reggie Bush-like cutback and scored in heroic fashion, diving over the goal line from the three. The failed extra point left the score at 25-0.
In most circumstances like this, with not much hope left, teams would lay down and concede. Instead, the Boomers responded with a six-play, 71-yard drive capped off by an 11-yard touchdown run by senior Kyle Hayner, bringing the score to 32-7 after the extra-point kick by Cody Nicholson.
On the final play of the half, Nicholson assured there would be no more scoring for Monroe by intercepting a ball and nearly returning it for a touchdown.
“Everything that could have gone wrong for us in that first half did,” said Taylor. “We went into the locker room and just hashed it out with the guys. All the coaches had things to say. We encouraged the guys to go down swinging their swords and to leave the field as men.”
Toledo got the ball to open the third quarter with a five-play, 62-yard drive capped by a 28-yard touchdown run by junior phenom Donovan Villanueva. After the extra point, the score was 32-14, breathing life into the Boomer sideline. A deep kick left the Dragons deep in their own territory, and two plays later, a safety-sack by junior James Werder in the end zone brought the score to 32-16, making it a two-score game.
“Right there we had an open door,” explained Taylor. “We had a chance.”
After the safety kickoff, Hayner ran nine yards on the first play, and it looked like all momentum had shifted to the Boomers. But in the blink of an eye that was gone when on the next play, the Boomers fumbled the ball once again. Monroe scored six plays later to seal the win. The scoring would eventually settle at 53-23, sending Monroe into their third semifinal trip in as many years and leave the Boomers wondering what just happened.
“That game was a tough pill to swallow,” said offensive coordinator Eddie Townsend, who mulled the effect of six turnovers that befell the Boomers. “I would have never thought it was going to turn out this way. I feel like we prepared our boys the best we could. You just can’t predict the way the ball bounced today. And when I say the ball didn’t bounce our way, it really didn’t at all.”
Taylor, a first-year head coach who inherited a leaderless and disillusioned team, reasoned it was a great season, anyway.
“We really established something here this year,” he reflected. “I am so thankful to the seniors for what they did for this program and this school. I saw some real hunger from the younger players that know we still have room to grow. We will be back, and we will be better for this, I guarantee you that. We have unfinished business.”
Toledo’s Jaxon Rozewski ended the season going 12/23 for 200 yards, one touchdown and one interception. Rozewski finished the season passing for 2,397 yards and 27 touchdowns.
Senior Kyle Hayner ended his Boomer career at Monroe with 93 yards on 10 carries. He ended his season with 1,156 rushing yards.
Toledo ended the season 8-3, tying their best finish since the 2016 season, when they made it to the quarterfinals, too, losing to Kennedy that year. Though the Boomers are losing standout seniors Cody Nicholson and Hayner, the cupboard is far from bare. Juniors Rozewski, Villanueva, Mason McAlpine, Hunter Harwood, Markus Cross, Ashton Retherford, Trenton Hutchinson James Werder, and sophomores Ashten Fisher, Coren Loper, Kyle Nicholson, Bubba Barnhart and Donovan Woods, as well as Freshman standout Gunner Rothenberger, will return next year for the Boomers. The future looks bright for this Toledo team.
“I think we will come back strong and put ourselves in a position to win it all next year,” Taylor said. “If we keep ourselves humble and keep working, we have a chance, and that is all a guy could ask for.”
But for now, it is onto the winter sports season.