(21) N Illinois 30

(9-2, 5-2 MAC)

Toledo 49

(7-3, 5-1 MAC)

Coverage: GamePlan

3:00 PM ET, November 15, 2003

Glass Bowl, Toledo, OH

1 2 3 4 T
#21NIU 7 0 17 630
TOL 7 21 7 1449

Gradkowski finishes 24-of-27 for the win

TOLEDO, Ohio (AP) -- Northern Illinois has fallen from the ranks of the undefeated to being in danger of missing out on a bowl bid.

Bruce Gradkowski threw for 301 yards and three touchdowns Saturday, leading Toledo over No. 21 Northern Illinois 49-30.

Bruce Gradkowski

Toledo Bruce Gradkowski is just another great QB from the MAC.

Gradkowski flawlessly directed Toledo's spread offense, completing 24 of 27 passes. His biggest throw came after three penalties gave the Rockets a third-and-33 play late in the third quarter.

Gradkowski found tight end Andrew Clarke all alone over the middle and he rumbled 60 yards to put Toledo ahead 35-24.

"That was the turning point in the game," Gradkowski said. "I don't think anyone in the stands thought we were going to get it."

Northern Illinois coach Joe Novak said "that just knocked the wind out of us."

"He couldn't have been more wide open if no one was back there," he said.

The Huskies (9-2, 5-2 Mid-American Conference) grabbed the nation's attention just a few weeks ago while rising to No. 12 in the rankings, but they are in danger of not even getting a bowl bid.

Novak said he hopes that's not the case.

"If we are 10-2 or anybody in this league is 10-2 and we don't go to a bowl game, that's wrong," Novak said. "That's where our bowl system is screwed up."

The MAC has tie-ins with just two bowls -- the Motor City Bowl and the GMAC Bowl -- and right now No. 25 Bowling Green and No. 23 Miami of Ohio are in better shape than the Huskies.

The loss all but eliminated them from a spot in the conference's championship game.

Toledo (7-3, 5-1) can get to its third straight MAC title game by winning its last two games, including the season-ender at No. 25 Bowling Green.

Northern Illinois trailed 28-7 at the half, but Toledo turned the ball over twice in their territory during the first six minutes of the third quarter and allowed the Huskies right back in it.

P.J. Fleck leaped high for a 7-yard touchdown that pulled the Huskies to 28-24 with 8:01 remaining in the third.

But Toledo scored on two of its next three possessions to put the game away.

Trinity Dawson rushed for 99 yards and scored on a pair of 1-yard runs.

Northern Illinois' Michael Turner had 32 carries for 181 yards and a touchdown.

Gradkowski completed his first 14 passes of the game. His only incompletion came when he missed Steve Odom wide open in the end zone.

But that hardly mattered.

Three plays later, he rolled out and found tight end Andrew Clarke for a 5-yard scoring pass that gave the Rockets a 28-7 lead with 1:17 left in the first half.

Three Huskies turnovers led to Toledo's first three touchdowns.

The most costly one came on a fake punt when Brian Atkinson bobbled the snap and gave Toledo the ball near midfield.

Trinity Dawson then scored on a 9-yard run to tie it a 7-7 with 2:57 left in the first quarter.

On the next possession, Trinity Dawson's 1-yard run capped an 8-play, 72-yard drive.

After Toledo's Brandon Hefflin picked off Josh Haldi's pass over the middle, the Rockets needed just one play to make it 21-7.

Gradkowski rolled out and threw a 40-yard strike to Lance Moore with 8:51 in the second quarter.

Gradkowski came into the game seventh in the nation in passing efficiency in just his first season as a starter.

He's been on target on 70 percent of his throws for the season -- good for third best in the nation.