As he battled injuries throughout the 2022 season, Toledo quarterback Dequan Finn relied on a message from his coach to stay the course and eventually lead his team to a bowl victory.
“Do what you say you’ll do,” Finn said. “And we followed through on our promises. I’m grateful for that message, as well as having Coach Candle and the rest of the team.”
Finn threw for 133 yards and a touchdown and ran for another as Toledo defeated Liberty 21-19 in the rainy Boca Raton Bowl on Tuesday night.
Toledo came from behind to defeat Liberty, handing the Flames their first bowl loss after three straight victories.
Liberty (8-5) was led by interim coach Josh Aldridge, who took over for Hugh Freeze, who was named Auburn’s head coach at the end of the regular season.
Toledo (9-5) capped off a successful season that included the Mid-Atlantic Conference championship with its first bowl victory since 2015.
“I thought the game tonight kind of mimicked our season in the sense that some ups, some downs, but at the end of the day finding a way,” Toledo coach Jason Candle said.
Liberty scored twice in the fourth quarter in a five-minute span, cutting a 21-7 deficit to two points. Kaidon Salter connected with Treon Sibley for a 29-yard scoring pass at 7:24 of the third quarter to make it 21-13, and CJ Daniels connected with Bentley Hanshaw for a 67-yard scoring strike to bring the game within two points. However, Liberty’s 2-point conversion attempt failed, and Toledo held on for the final 3:40 seconds.
Finn was as dangerous on offence as he had been all season, leading the Mid-American Conference with 30 total touchdowns.
On the first drive of the second half, Finn led Toledo’s offence 75 yards, giving the Rockets their first lead of the game, 10-7, and they led the rest of the way. Lenny Khule’s 4-yard touchdown reception capped the drive, his third of the season.
Finn’s 1-yard rushing touchdown in the fourth quarter put Toledo up 21-7.
“His maturity and toughness continue to show,” Candle said.
Liberty led Toledo 7-3 at halftime as its defence kept the Rockets out of the end zone despite having more first downs, offensive yards, and time of possession.
In the first quarter, Liberty running back Shedro Louis scored the Flames’ first touchdown on a 9-yard run.
Salter completed 12 of 20 passes for 84 yards and a touchdown.
On Liberty’s first offensive play of the third quarter, Salter caused the game’s first turnover with a sack-fumble. This set up Thomas Cluckey’s 29-yard field goal, which gave the Rockets a 13-7 lead.
“We just made too many errors to win,” Aldridge explained.
A few drives later, Toledo’s Adam Beale muffed a punt at rain-soaked FAU Stadium, giving Liberty the ball at the 10-yard line.
The Flames were pushed back by consecutive offensive penalties, and kicker Nick Brown, who had made six straight field goals from inside the 50-yard line, missed a 32-yarder.
GETTING DOWN TO BUSINESS
Toledo dominated the run game thanks to Finn’s mobility and running back Jacques Stuart, who had a season-high 23 carries for 111 yards at 4.8 yards per carry.
DOMINANCE OF JOHNSON
There were questions about whether Liberty’s senior defensive end Durrell Johnson would play in the team’s bowl game before Tuesday’s game. He did. His quickness and ability to create pressure also prevented Toledo from scoring more points. Johnson contributed four tackles for loss to Liberty’s total of 12. The Flames have the most team tackles for loss in the country.
Penalties in the second half proved costly for the Flames. Following two quarters of no penalties, the Flames ended with five flags for 40 yards, the majority of which stalled their offensive drives.
Toledo: The Rockets’ offence chewed up the clock, particularly in the second half, with six and seven-minute drives, and they converted 10 of 17 third downs.
WHAT COMES NEXT
Liberty: With a new head coach, the Flames will join Conference USA in 2023. Earlier this month, Liberty hired former Coastal Carolina coach Jamey Caldwell as its head coach. On September 2, 2023, Liberty will open the regular season at home against Bowling Green.
Next season, the Rockets will try to win their second MAC title in a row. Toledo will open the 2023 season against Illinois on September 2nd.