As two-score road underdogs with key injuries on both sides of the football, the Colorado State Rams weren’t given much of a chance Saturday.
But thanks to a dominant defense, and just enough offense, the Rams pulled off a shocker with a 22-6 upset of the Toledo Rockets at Glass Bowl Stadium for their first win of the season.
“I’m just happy we won,” CSU junior tight end Trey McBride said. “We’ll fix what we need to fix this week. But ultimately, we needed a win, and we got one. So I was happy this team came through. Now we know what we’re capable of, and we’re excited to build on it.”
In a contest where both offenses struggled, a CSU defense that struggled in opening season losses to South Dakota State and Vanderbilt stifled Toledo a week after it went toe-to-toe with No. 12 Notre Dame in a 32-29 loss.
While penalties –– 10 to be exact –– hindered the Rockets all game long, the Rams’ defensive line and linebacker corps provided equal fits for the hosts.
CSU (1-2) forced the Rockets to punt on four of their first five possessions as the first half ended deadlocked at 3-3 –– after Toledo mustered just 38 total yards.
“Our defense played lights out,” CSU coach Steve Addazio said. “We really improved there. We played a great pass-rush. We were playing with an awful lot of young guys in the back end, and they played well. It was just a really gritty performance from our defense. I’m proud of our team overall and how they fought today.”
The defensive disruption continued in the second half as the Rockets finished with just 284 yards, the lowest total CSU has held an opponent to since defeating Western Illinois in 2019.
Notably, the Rams stifled Toledo running back Bryant Koback (1.9 yards per touch) two years after he ran all over CSU’s Canvas Stadium for 228 yards in 2019.
CSU also sacked Rockets quarterback Carter Bradley six times and had 10 tackles for loss. Senior Dequan Jackson led the way with 13 tackles, while fellow linebacker Mohamad Kamara added a career-high 3.5 tackles for loss (2.5 sacks).
“We just bought in,” Jackson said. “We had a great week of practice. We kind of knew what they were doing, and we had some extra meetings as a defense. We came out and played lights out.”
Freshman Jack Howell also rose to the occasion in the secondary in his first career start, filling in for Logan Stewart’s first-half absence with nine tackles.
“Jack Howell is going to be a hell of a player,” Addazio said. “He’s got great football in his blood. His dad was a great player, and he’s gonna be a great player. He’s just gonna grow from here.”
While the offense struggled to score points, CSU did get big days from McBride (nine receptions, 109 yards) and running back David Bailey (30 carriers, 132 yards).
The game’s only touchdown, however, came on special teams – a 70-yard punt return from Thomas Pannunzio in the third quarter that gave the Rams a 13-6 lead they never relinquished.
The Rams had freshman Gerick Robinson as the punt returner to begin the game in place of junior Dante Wright, who was out with a knee injury. After Robinson muffed a pair of first-half punts, one of which led to a Toledo field goal, CSU made the switch to Pannunzio.
“I’ve been waiting a whole year to get another shot at (punt returning),” Pannunzio said. “So it felt good. I just saw they were giving me like five yards of space, and I knew I could make a play out of it. Then I hit a few holes, and I was gone from there.”
Kicker Cayden Camper rebounded from a rough game against Vanderbilt (two missed field goals) by connecting on all five of his field goal attempts Saturday. That included three kicks of 42 yards or longer.
“We addressed the problem this week in practice,” McBride said. “We put him in tough situations. We had the whole team screaming in his ear. We had guys running in front of him and throwing stuff at him. I mean, we probably put him under the most pressure that he’s been under in his life. And he came out and showed it. A lot of kicking is mental, and he was able to turn that around.”