Bearcats Claw Out Victory
By John Antonik for MSNsportsNET.com
November 13, 2009
West Virginia wanted to run the ball, control the clock, and keep fifth-rated Cincinnati’s explosive offense off the field. It almost worked.
But the Bearcats, now 10-0, 6-0, got a pair of touchdown passes from Tony Pike and a favorable call by the replay official to defeat West Virginia 24-21 Friday night at Nippert Stadium.
"I've been on both sides of these and I've said on the winning side that I hate to see a loser, well, I hate to see a loser tonight," said West Virginia coach Bill Stewart. "But that's how life is and it happens."
The Cincinnati victory now sets up a showdown with Pitt on Dec. 5 in Pittsburgh to determine the Big East champion.
West Virginia, now 7-3, 3-2, is out of the Big East title hunt and will look back at this game realizing that it had plenty of opportunities to pull off the upset. Now the Mountaineers are relegated to the spoiler role when they face the Panthers in Morgantown on Nov. 27.
"This is one that is going to stay with me for a long, long time," said Stewart.
A three-play sequence with six minutes left in the fourth quarter essentially decided the game. The Mountaineers drove the ball from their own 20 to the Bearcat 25 with nine straight runs. After a Brown incompletion made it third and 9, Jock Sanders ran off tackle for one yard to bring up fourth and 8.
"That was a power play that we had been gashing 6, 8, 12, 10 and they slanted and blitzed and Jock got caught off the backside," said Stewart. "It was one of those gotchas. All we were trying to do was run a sound football play to get it to fourth and 5 or fourth and 4 so we had a chance to make the fourth down conversion."
Eschewing a long field goal try, Stewart elected to go for it but a hurried Brown couldn’t connect with Bradley Starks, turning the ball back over to Cincinnati on downs.
Stewart explained his thought process on fourth down.
"I was going for the win," he said. "That was my decision. I wanted to go for the score and play to win and not keep it close. Had we went for the kick, I'm sure our guy would have made it. Then we would have kicked off, could they have taken it? I don't know? I know this, it would have been a tough time stopping them because we hadn't stopped them that much all night."
On the very next play, Isaiah Pead, who ran for a game-high 175 yards, took a zone read to his right, reversed field, and ran 43 yards to the West Virginia 33. That run eventually set up Jake Rogers’ 38-yard field goal to give the Bearcats a 24-14 lead with 2:08 remaining.
"We had a chance to make a play there and we didn't make the play," said defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel. "We need to get the guy on the ground and we don't do it and that's what happens."
Cincinnati, leading by two scores, chose to play prevent defense. That allowed West Virginia to drive 64 yards in seven plays - all of them passes from Brown. The two big ones were 21-yarders to Wes Lyons near the sideline and to Jock Sanders over the middle.
On second and 6 at the Bearcat 14, Brown escaped pressure to find Alric Arnett for 11 yards to the 4. The next play he scrambled away from more pressure to hit Starks in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard score. Tyler Bitancurt’s PAT pulled the Mountaineers to within a field goal of tying the game with 39 seconds remaining.
It was eerily similar to last year’s game in Morgantown when West Virginia made up a 13-point deficit in the remaining 1:11 to send the game into overtime. But this time Bitancurt’s onside kick was recovered by Armon Binns at the WVU 43 and Cincinnati was able to run out the clock.
Cincinnati got on the board on its opening possession of the game when Zach Collaros drove the Bearcats from their 27 to the West Virginia 10, where Pike came in and found Binns in the back of the end zone. It was Pike’s first play after returning from an injured forearm suffered in the South Florida game.
An Adrien Robinson fumble at the Cincinnati 45 on the Bearcat’s following possession gave West Virginia great field position, which the Mountaineers were able to turn into points when Brown scored from the 8. Before that he hit passes of 17 yards to Starks and 12 yards to Sanders on the drive.
Following a badly missed 34-yard field goal try by Rodgers, West Virginia took the lead, 14-7, when Ryan Clarke broke free for a 37-yard touchdown run on a third and 2 play. Prior to Clarke’s TD run, West Virginia had gotten a Brown 24-yard pass to Arnett on third and 12 to move the ball to the Bearcat 45.
Cincinnati came back and tied the game, although it took a replay official’s call to determine the touchdown. Pead leapt from the 2-yard line with the ball outstretched toward the goal line, where the football was knocked out by West Virginia and recovered by the Mountaineers at the Cincinnati 3.
However, the replay official ruled that Pead had not only crossed the goal line, but also had control of the football, giving Cincinnati the score. West Virginia had two other bad breaks go against it, one, a push to the back against Arnett on third and 11 at the WVU 29, and what looked like another helmet-to-helmet blow against quarterback Brown at the end of the third quarter similar to the one that knocked him out of the Marshall game.
The first question Stewart was asked after the game was about the official's reversal.
"I'll save that for the Big East, they're professional men and they called it, I guess, the way they saw it," Stewart said. "But we still had a whole half to play. The big one was the bang-bang on our receiver on that big third down."
Cincinnati retook the lead at the start of the third quarter, driving 64 yards in 10 plays that ended with a Pike-to-D.J. Woods 6-yard touchdown pass on third and goal. A Collaros 22-yard-pass to Woods set up the score.
Collaros was an effective 17 of 24 for 205 yards through the air, while Pike completed 2 of 4 passes in relief of Collaros for 14 yards and a pair of touchdowns.
The Bearcats finished the game with 436 total yards, but that really doesn’t indicate how well Casteel’s defense played. Cincinnati had four fewer first downs than the Mountaineers (22 to 18) and had the football for nine fewer minutes.
"I'm proud of our guy's effort, we just need to make a play when we we've got to make them to win a game," said Casteel.
Brown finished the night 17 of 25 for 188 yards and a touchdown with 64 of those yards coming on West Virginia’s final drive. Brown played admirably in the face of constant pressure. Noel Devine also played admirably on a sprained ankle, running 25 times for 88 yards.
"He played the best that he could," said Stewart. "He's got an ankle, he's got a hip and he's got a hamstring. I tried to tell these guys that when your 5-foot-8, 176 pounds you cannot carry the ball 30-35 times a game. This is a big-boy game."
Clarke added 60 yards on just five carries. Eight different WVU receivers caught passes led by Starks’ five catches for 50 yards.
"This is tough and we'll find out how tough we are," said Stewart. "We can do what a lot of people will say and roll up the tent or we can get out there and roll up our sleeves and get back to work. I think we'll do the latter."
West Virginia has 14 days before facing Pitt in the Backyard Brawl in Morgantown. The Panthers play Notre Dame tomorrow night.
Big 12 Championship Report 3
Mountaineers Speak on CNN
Big 12 Championship Report 2
Big 12 Championships Report
Harrison Musgrave strikes out 14 in TCU victory
Around the Horn with Randy Mazey