TOLEDO, Ohio — Toledo's chance at playing in a New Year's Day bowl game was dashed by a familiar nemesis and a backup quarterback
For the sixth consecutive year, the 20th-ranked Rockets ran into a Northern Illinois road block.
Huskies freshman quarterback Ryan Graham, who replaced injured starter Drew Hare, led two fourth-quarter scoring drives, and Northern Illinois rallied to beat the Rockets 32-27 on Tuesday night.
Northern Illinois is looking to represent the West Division in the Mid-American Conference championship game for the sixth consecutive season.
The Rockets (7-1, 4-1) were ranked 24th in the first College Football Playoff rankings of the season released right before kickoff. The ranking didn't impress the Huskies who beat Toledo for the sixth straight season.
"We were undisciplined tonight. That's the best way to put it," Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. "We had multiple opportunities to put them away and other times when we had a chance to execute better when we should have. When you don't do that against a good team, that's what gets you beat."
Joel Bouagnon, who scored on a 2-yard touchdown run with 1:59 remaining, rushed for 87 yards on 26 carries.
Graham entered midway through the second quarter after Hare injured his leg and spent the second half on the sideline using crutches. Coach Rod Carey said the junior is likely to miss the remainder of the season. In his place, Graham was 9 for 12 for 132 yards and ran for 41 more yards.
"When we put (Graham) out there in the first half, we weren't going to let him do a whole lot. We were just going to kind of get his blood flowing," Carey said. "We got him in at halftime, went through everything with him and then just let him go. He had great poise tonight."
The Huskies closed within 27-25 when Graham found Kenny Golladay for a diving, 7-yard touchdown reception with 9:27 left. Northern Illinois caught a big break on that scoring drive when Toledo's DeJuan Rogers was called for a personal foul on a field goal attempt.
The Tuesday night meeting was part of the MAC's 12th season of switching key games to mid-week dates in exchange for major national television coverage. Both teams dressed for the occasion, with Toledo wearing gold jerseys over gold pants for the first time and Northern Illinois donning new all-white road uniforms.
Toledo's Kareem Hunt rushed for 140 yards and two touchdowns. His 1-yard score with 4:23 left in the third quarter gave the Rockets a 24-16 lead.
But the Huskies rallied while playing without two players who provided much of their early offensive spark. One possession before Hare left, wide receiver Tommylee Lewis was helped off the field and did not return.
Hare and Lewis connected five times for 125 yards in the first quarter, including a 67-yard touchdown and a 50-yard completion that set up the first of four field goals by Christian Hagan.
Terry Swanson rushed for 133 yards on 16 carries, but the Rockets gained 87 of their 291 yards rushing in the second half.
"They came out with a little different run scheme tonight, so it took us a minute to adjust to that," Carey said. "But once we adjusted to it, I think we got our feet in the ground and put a stop to that and forced them back to the pass."
Toledo didn't find much success there. Senior Phillip Ely was 15 of 33 for 136 yards, a touchdown and two interceptions — including a pick by Boomer Mays on the Rockets' final possession. He was sacked twice — the first two the Rockets have allowed this season.
"I thought both Terry and Kareem played well. I wasn't disappointed with either of those two," Campbell said. "Our game plan was to run the football offensively, but our passing game wasn't where we needed to be, whether it was dropped passes or protection issues."