BOCA RATON, Fla. – It's not often that a first-time head coach makes his debut in late December. But that was the situation that Toledo coach Jason Candle found himself in Tuesday night in the Boca Raton Bowl at FAU Stadium.
The Rockets defeated No. 24 Temple 32-17 in a rain-soaked game to give Toledo 10 wins for the first time since 2001 and earn Candle a victory in his opening act as commander-in-chief of the football team.
"Well, it feels good to win anytime, you know, that's for sure," Candle said. "But certainly you couldn't write the script like this."
Candle was named head coach earlier this month after Matt Campbell left for Iowa State.
"To have the opportunity to take over a program, most of the time those programs aren't in very good shape," Candle said. "Matt Campbell left this place and left it in great shape."
Toledo (10-2) led 25-9 late in the fourth quarter before Temple found the end zone for the first time.
Temple (10-4) scored first on a 29-yard field goal by sophomore kicker Austin Jones to take a 3-0 lead late in the first quarter.
Toledo's Nick Ellis booted a career-long 64-yard punt in the second quarter that gave Temple the ball at its own 9-yard line. On second-and-9, Temple running back Jahad Thomas fumbled the football, which rolled into the end zone to give Toledo a safety.
If the Owls didn't know Corey Jones before the game, they surely knew him after. Toledo's junior wide receiver returned the kickoff to the Toledo 45-yard line. His 7-yard catch moved the Rockets into Temple territory, and he scored the game's first touchdown on a 26-yard reception that gave Toledo a 9-3 lead.
Jones was one of two Toledo receivers, along with Cody Thompson, to haul in a touchdown catch. Jones finished with three catches for 42 yards and a touchdown, while Thompson finished with four catches for 119 yards and a score.
The Rockets got the ball back with a little less than two minutes remaining in the first half and quickly drove down the field, setting up a 38-yard field goal by Jameson Vest to head into the locker room with a 12-3 halftime lead.
Temple notched a pair of field goals by Jones in the third quarter -- from 25 and 35 yards out -- to trim Toledo's lead to three, but Thompson caught an 80-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter to put the Rockets ahead 19-9.
Junior running back Kareem Hunt scored on a 1-yard run with 5:46 left in the game, giving Toledo its largest lead of the night.
The Owls scored on a late 2-yard run from Kip Patton to pull within a touchdown, but Thompson recovered an onside kick by Tyler Mayes to give the ball back to Toledo with 2:50 left.
Hunt tacked on a 41-yard touchdown to give Toledo the insurance it needed to preserve the victory.
Temple's 17 points were its fewest of the season.
"Obviously just extremely disappointed with the way we played," Temple coach Matt Rhule said of his team's performance. "It falls on me, you know. … Obviously, I didn't do my job well enough to prepare us to play."
Rhule said he was disappointed by the lack of communication from officials on the onside recovery after it appeared that Temple had possession of the ball. Rhule said he was hoping for a review.
"I got no explanation," he said.
When asked what stymied Temple, Rhule said his team was "terrible on second down in the first half."
"We just couldn't do a thing on second down," Rhule said.
Rhule said he was still proud of what the Owls accomplished this season, despite the disappointing finish.
It was a fitting farewell for Toledo quarterback Phillip Ely, who ended his college career in his home state. The senior from Tampa was named the game's most valuable player after finishing the evening 20-of-28 for 285 yards and two touchdowns.
Although Ely has worn the Toledo uniform for the final time, Candle hopes a victory in Boca Raton will serve his program well in future recruiting battles.
"South Florida football is passionate and there are many players that don't get to go to the big three schools in the state," Candle said. "So we like to throw our hat in the mix with all those guys and try to do as best we can to recruit them and get them up to a great place in Toledo."