Boca Raton, Fla. — The Boca Raton Bowl trophy ceremony ended in heavy rain, and Toledo coach Jason Candle walked off the field soaking wet, declining the offer of a towel with a grin.
“Towels aren’t going to do me much good now,” Candle said.
Soggy weather couldn’t dampen the celebratory mood for the Rockets, who won Candle’s first game as head coach Tuesday night, beating No. 24 Temple 32-17.
Phillip Ely threw for 285 yards and two touchdowns, including an 80-yarder to Cody Thompson.
Candle called plays from the press box, as he has done all season. He was promoted from offensive coordinator three weeks ago when Matt Campbell took over at Iowa State.
“You couldn’t write a script like this,” Candle said. “When people fall into positions like this, most of the time those programs aren’t in very good shape, but Matt Campbell left this place in great shape. Moving forward we’ve got to continue that.”
The Rockets (10-2) positioned themselves to crack the final Top 25 for the first time since 2001, the last season they won 10 games.
“Our team deserves to be in that conversation,” Candle said. “Tonight we put an exclamation point on a great season.”
Temple (10-4) lost for the fourth time in seven games after starting 7-0.
“I’m never going to shake my head at winning 10 games,” coach Matt Rhule said. “But we didn’t finish the way we wanted to finish.”
Frequent driving rain hampered both offenses, but Ely went 20 for 28 with no turnovers.
“This was my last game,” the senior said, “and I felt I played like it.”
Linebacker Ja’Wuan Woodley’s jarring tackle sent the ball squirting backward 15 yards through the end zone for an early safety, and the hits kept coming from the Rockets, who blitzed on virtually every play. Temple came into the game averaging 31 points but didn’t reach the end zone until less than three minutes remained.
Jahad Thomas, who came into the game with 1,257 yards rushing for Temple, hurt his knee late in the first half and didn’t return.
“When you lose a guy like Jahad, you lose someone that can make a difference in the game,” Temple quarterback P.J. Walker said.
Thomas was held to 5 yards on eight carries, and his fumble led to the safety.
Toledo entered the game ranked third in the nation in red zone defense, and three times the Rockets held Temple to short field goals.
Ely and Woodley were chosen the game’s most valuable players.
The Rockets were nursing a 12-9 lead in the final period when they started at their 20 following a 71-yard punt. Thompson slipped behind the secondary, caught Ely’s pass in stride at his 40 and veered untouched to the end zone.
The play was a run-pass option.
“We take a chance here and there,” Ely said. “Luckily it worked out for us.”
The Rockets’ Thompson recovered an onside kick following Temple’s touchdown, a ruling the Owls disputed.
“I thought we had the onside kick,” Rhule said. “I still think we had it.”
“I had it the whole time,” Thompson said with a straight face as his teammates laughed.
Following the recovery, Kareem Hunt scored on a 41-yard run to seal the victory.
Toledo’s Corey Jones broke five tackles to turn a short reception into a 26-yard score in the first half.
The Rockets totaled 435 yards. They moved 36 yards in the final 1:10 of the first half and kicked a 38-yard field goal on the last play for a 12-3 lead.
Famous Idaho Potato Bowl
Akron 23, Utah State 21: At Boise, Idaho, Robert Stein made three field goals and Jatavis Brown led a smothering defense as Akron earned its first victory in a bowl, 23-21 over Utah State on Tuesday in the Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.
Stein, who became the school’s career scoring leader with 268 points, connected from 29, 33 and 46 yards, and was selected the game’s MVP. His longest kick gave the Zips a 23-14 lead with 8:15 remaining.
Akron (8-5) finished with eight wins for the first time since moving up to FBS in 1987. The record came four years to the day after the school hired coach Terry Bowden.
While Stein provided the difference in scoring, it was Akron’s defense that made the lead stick.
Brown, the MAC defensive player of the year, had eight tackles along with 1-1/2 sacks, 2-1/2 tackles for loss, and a critical forced fumble.
Utah State (6-7) mounted a comeback behind senior quarterback Chuckie Keeton, who threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Hunter Sharp with 1:12 remaining to pull to 23-21. But Akron recovered the onside kick and then stopped one final flea flicker play by Utah State as time expired.
Stanford running back Christian McCaffrey is The Associated Press college football player of the year, becoming the first non-Heisman Trophy winner to earn the honor in six years.
McCaffrey was the runner-up for the Heisman Trophy to Derrick Henry, but received 29 of 60 votes from the AP Top 25 media panel to edge the Alabama running back.
Henry received 16 votes and Clemson quarterback Deshaun Watson was third with 11.
... Purdue tight ends coach Terry Malone was named the team’s offensive coordinator.
Malone, who still will coach tight ends, has a “winning pedigree,” coach Darrell Hazell said in a release, adding that he looks “forward to sitting down with him once we get back from the holiday break and putting our offense together.”
Malone joined the Purdue staff in February after nine seasons as the tight ends coach with the New Orleans Saints. He also has been an offensive coordinator at Michigan (2002-05) and Bowling Green, and worked at Boston College and Holy Cross.
Malone coached four All-Americans and two Big Ten players of the year at Michigan.
... Eastern Michigan coach Chris Creighton announced that assistant coach/defensive coordinator Brad McCaslin has been relieved of his duties after two years with the Eagles, effective immediately.
“Coach McCaslin has worked incredibly hard these past two years to make our football program better,” Creighton said. “This has been a very difficult decision. We wish him and his family nothing but the best moving forward.”
A national search for a replacement will begin immediately.
... Ball State coach Pete Lembo is leaving the Cardinals to join Maryland as assistant head coach and special teams coordinator.
... Texas State’s Dennis Franchione is retiring after a 30-year career as a head coach with stops in New Mexico, TCU, Alabama and Texas A&M. Franchione, 64, went 213-135-2.
... Miami sent home from the Sun Bowl safety Jamal Carter (policy) and defensive tackle Courtel Jenkins (ineligible).
Boise State (8-4) vs. Northern Illinois (8-5)
Kickoff: 4:30 p.m., Qualcomm Stadium, San Diego
Line: Boise State by 9
Series record: First meeting.
Key matchup: BSU’s offensive line against NIU’s defensive line. The Broncos will be trying to open holes for Jeremy McNichols, who rushed for 1,244 yards and 18 touchdowns this season.
Players to watch: Boise State — Wide receiver Thomas Sperbeck had 82 catches for a school single-season record 1,334 yards and eight touchdowns. Northern Illinois — RB Joel Bouagnon rushed for 1,269 yards and 18 touchdowns.
Bowling Green (10-3) vs. Georgia Southern (8-4)
Kickoff: 8 p.m., Ladd-Peebles Stadium, Mobile, Ala.
Line: Bowling Green by 7
Series record: First meeting.
Key matchup: Georgia Southern’s offense vs. Bowling Green’s offense. Both teams are very successful on offense, but Georgia Southern does it running out of a triple option rarely seen in today’s college game. Bowling Green QB Matt Johnson has thrown for a 4,700 yards this season.
Players to watch: Bowling Green — The Falcons have several good receivers, but Roger Lewis is Johnson’s best big-play threat, catching 82 passes for 1,476 yards and 15 TDs. Georgia Southern — RB Matt Breida has rushed for 1,586 yards rushing and 16 TDs, averaging 8.2 yards per carry.