TOLEDO, Ohio (Ticker) -- A dramatic turnaround carried Toledo back to the Mid-American Conference championship game.
Bruce Gradkowski passed for two touchdowns and ran for another score in a 28-point third quarter as the Rockets rallied from a 20-point halftime deficit to defeat No. 24 Bowling Green, 49-41.
Toledo clinched the MAC West Division crown and will make its third appearance in the MAC title game in four years under coach Tom Amstutz. The Rockets (8-3, 7-1) will face East Division champion Miami of Ohio on December 2.
Bowling Green (8-3, 6-2) jumped out to a 14-0 lead just over two minutes into the game and appeared to be in control with a 27-7 cushion at intermission. But the Rockets responded with 35 straight points in the second half to improve to 23-1 at home under Amstutz.
"The players' heads were down in the locker room and I went in there with fire and told them I wasn't quitting," Amstutz said. "I told them you have to believe and told them we've done this before."
The comeback reminded Amstutz of the 2001 MAC championship game against Marshall, when the Rockets rallied from a 23-0 deficit in the second quarter.
"That's what we talked about and just kept believing," Amstutz said. "You have to do that to win a game like this."
Gradkowski, who completed 24-of-39 passes for 338 yards with three TDs and two interceptions, started the comeback with a 37-yard TD pass to Lance Moore on 4th-and-9 on Toledo's first possession of the second half.
"That was a huge play and a high-risk play," Amstutz said. "We believed we had to make plays to get back in the game. We took a chance and let our quarterback throw a pass to our best receiver."
After forcing a three-and-out, Toledo closed to 27-21 on Gradkowski's one-yard TD run. Bowling Green had a chance to extend the lead, but Shaun Suisham's 41-yard field goal attempt hit the left upright.
Gradkowski's 20-yard TD pass to Steve Odom put the Rockets ahead for good, 28-27, with 2:20 left in the third quarter.
"I don't think it was really anything that UT did," Bowling Green coach Gregg Brandon said. "I thought our ineptness and Omar (Jenkins) not being real sharp in the third quarter was the difference. It was the first time in a long time that he hasn't been as accurate as he's been."
Jenkins, who leads the country with 36 touchdown passes, completed 36-of-60 for 415 yards and four TDs. He padded his statistics by throwing a pair of TD passes to P.J. Pope in the final four minutes.
Toledo opened a 49-34 lead with 2:18 remaining on a 31-yard TD run by Scooter McDougle, who rushed for 112 yards and two TDs on 23 carries.
"We said (at halftime) that we needed to finish," Brandon added. "We still had 30 minutes of football left and we didn't get it done. We didn't weather the storm and we couldn't get a stop on defense."
Despite the loss, Bowling Green could be in line for a postseason game as the MAC now has tie-ins to three bowl games - the Motor City Bowl, the GMAC Bowl and the Silicon Valley Classic.