MOBILE, Alabama - Bruce Gradkowski and Trinity Dawson were not about to end their college careers on a sour note.
Gradkowski threw for five touchdowns - all to different receivers - and Dawson carried the ground game as Toledo cruised to a 45-13 victory over Texas-El Paso in the GMAC Bowl.
Holding 19 school records and three marks in the Mid-American Conference, Gradkowski had little trouble shredding the Miners'
overmatched defense en route to ending his college career in style.
"I think it ends the season right," Gradkowski said. "Our careers here at Toledo as seniors, it is icing on the cake.
This is our championship and it feels great."
Gradkowski did a majority of his damage in the first half, throwing touchdown passes of 10 yards to John Allen, 33 yards to
In the fourth quarter, Gradkowski turned the game into a rout by throwing TD passes of 22 yards to Josh Powell and 13 yards to Jason Robbins. He completed 18-of-32 passes for 298 yards and two interceptions that hardly mattered.
The five TDs tied a GMAC Bowl record, previously set by Omar Jacobs of Bowling Green in 2001. Also a first-team All-MAC selection, Dawson provided the running game by rushing for 124 yards on 24 attempts in his final collegiate game.
"Out offensive line made plays and gives us a chance to win," Dawson said. "I wouldn't want to run behind any other group of guys."
The victory had to be a sweet one for the Rockets since they had lost their last two postseason games, including a disappointing 39-10 drubbing vs. Connecticut in the Motor City Bowl last season.
"We played our style of football. It may be a little different than what they (UTEP) are used to seeing," Toledo coach Tom Amstutz said. "We tried to establish a little bit of a run. Once we got the run going, using different formations, then we used our passing."
Toledo also continued the trend of offense playing a prominent role in this game. They became the fifth straight winning team to score at least 38 points.
"We heard they were going to come out as a fast-paced offense," UTEP linebacker Jeremy Jones said. "They came out and beat us on all aspects of the game and their offense was clicking on all cylinders."
Linebacker David Thomas also got offensive for the Rockets, returning an interception 39 yards for a touchdown that opened a 21-3 lead with 10:05 left in the first half.
"We figure if we can get 11 men running to the ball, and we all do our jobs, someone will make a play," Thomas said. "Tonight we just played the best game we ever could." Thomas and the defense had a hand in making it a rough night for Miners quarterback Jordan Palmer, the younger brother of former Heisman Trophy winner Carson Palmer.
Palmer threw an 18-yard touchdown pass to Johnnie Higgins Jr. with 5:48 left in the first half, pulling the Miners within
21-10. But he suffered a leg injury late in the second quarter and struggled thereafter, finishing 14-of-33 for 163 yards and an interception while sitting out several series in the second half.
Making bowl appearances in consecutive seasons for the first time since 1954-55, the Miners (8-4) closed their campaign with
three straight losses. They have ended a season with a loss in 19 straight years.
UTEP has dropped its last four postseason contests since a 14-7 victory over Mississippi in the 1967 Sun Bowl.
Mike Price has been the the coach at UTEP the last two seasons.
He briefly was the coach of Alabama before being fired in May 2003 after an evening of lavishing strippers down the road in Pensacola, Florida.
"Toledo is one of the few teams in the last few years to beat us and us not beating ourselves," Price said. "I give a lot of credit to Toledo, they played a great game and hats off to them."