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Toledo — Eastern Michigan has displayed the ability to play with the premier teams in the Mid-American Conference, but beating one of them is a different story.

The Eagles, looking for their signature win, put on a strong performance against preseason MAC favorite Toledo (4-1, 1-0) Saturday afternoon at the Glass Bowl before suffering a 20-15 loss to the Rockets.

EMU (2-3, 0-2) pulled within 17-15 with 9:14 remaining when senior quarterback Brogan Roback found Antoine Porter for a 12-yard TD pass. They hooked up again on the 2-point attempt with Porter hauling in the pass in the right corner of the end zone, resulting in a 17-17 deadlock, but the points were taken off the scoreboard when Porter was ruled out of bounds on a replay review.

It was a brutal ending for Porter who also had a would-be first down bounce off his hands and into the hands of Toledo defensive back Kahlil Robinson for an interception which was returned to EMU’s 22 to set up a 20-yard field goal by Jameson Vest with 2:58 left.

Still, the Eagles had one more chance, advancing into Toledo territory before Robinson once again stepped in front of Porter for an interception near the right sideline at the Rockets 31 with less than a minute remaining. Eastern was moving into a fierce wind during the fourth quarter.

It was EMU’s third straight loss, including a 27-20 double-OT defeat to defending MAC East champion Ohio two weeks ago in Ypsilanti.

“We’ve played five games now and it’s come down to the last play in four of the five and it’s my job to make sure that we’re making the plays in the end to win and we did that at Rutgers, but we haven’t done that the last three weeks,” EMU fourth-year head coach Chris Creighton said. “I have to coach better, right? You just have to make sure that the guys are going to make those plays, and yes, the guys have to make the plays and they can.

“I have to make sure that the mindset is right, that we believe that we’re going to win the game. I really do believe the guys believe it. We just haven’t been able to make the plays to do it.”

Roback, a Toledo native, completed 23-of-39 passes for 226 yards and two TDs, but also had the two late interceptions.

“We just want to give ourselves a chance and the defense did that and it’s something they’ve been doing all year long,”  Roback said. “Offensively, we just need to be better. It took too long for us to start getting into things that we liked and what we wanted to do, and then we started making plays later on.
“We had chances early on. We didn’t go three-and-out necessarily every time we went out. We were moving the ball, but just stalled out so we need to finish as an offensive group because the defense is doing everything they possibly can. It’s good to be in position right there, but when it’s crunch time we have to come out and make plays.”

Robinson, a sophomore, sure made the big plays.

“The quarterback kind of scrambled to that side,” said Robinson of his final interception. “I was just playing my coverage. The defensive line got a good rush, put pressure on him and I was just in the right place at the right time, just like the time before when the defensive line put on some good pressure, just like we’ve been stressing all week, try to get him (Roback) uncomfortable and then a little bobble, tip drill and I was right there. It (ball) just hit his (Porter’s) hands and bounced up.”

The MAC West battle showcased the conference’s No. 1 offense with Toledo coming in averaging 42 points against the No. 1 scoring defense in EMU (17.8 points).

It also had the league’s top quarterback in Logan Woodside of Toledo who entered the game averaging 336.5 yards passing, throwing 11 TDs with just one interception.

Woodside (23-of-34, 289 yards) led the Rockets deep into EMU territory on the game’s opening drive, finding the league’s top receiver Cody Thompson for a 32-yard hookup to the 10, but Thompson suffered a right leg injury and had to be carted off the field, and the Rockets were limited to a 27-yard field goal by Jameson Vest.

In fact, EMU’s defense came up big during Toledo’s first three drives in the red zone, limiting them to that one field goal with 10:51 left in the opening quarter. Vest also had a 21-yard field goal attempt that was blocked later in the first quarter, then he misfired on a 35-yard attempt after Woodside overthrew Jon’Vea Johnson in the end zone on a third-down pass from the 18 in the second quarter.

The Eagles held a 6-3 lead when Roback found Johnnie Niupalau for an 11-yard TD pass with 12 seconds left in the first quarter on a third-down play, but they missed the PAT.

Toledo took a 10-6 halftime lead when Woodside directed a 52-yard drive that concluded with Shakif Seymour’s 1-yard TD run on fourth down with 2:19 left in the second.

EMU came up with another stop in the red zone early in the third quarter when Woodside was knocked hard to the turf inside the 1 by Jason Beck and Chris Hendricks stopped Seymour on fourth down.

But, the Eagles couldn’t get a first down and got off a bad punt from their own end zone, giving the ball back to Toledo at the EMU 17 and Art Thompkins scored on an 18-yard run on the first play to open up a 17-6 cushion.

The Eagles made it a one possession game (17-9) with Paulie Fricano’s 46-yard field goal with 6:08 left and EMU’s defense again tightened up after Toledo advanced to the EMU 31 with Brody Hoying and Luke Maclean coming up with consecutive sacks to force a punt.

Vince Calhoun led the Eagles with 16 tackles.

“Our coaches had a good plan,” Calhoun said. “We knew what they were going to run and were waiting on it. We played tough and everybody did their job.”

david.goricki@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @DavidGoricki

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