Cougars survive late comeback attempt by Bearcats
On a rainy homecoming afternoon, the Cougars bested the University of Cincinnati Bearcats 33-30 inside of TDECU Stadium, moving to 9-0 on the year and capturing a crucial conference victory.
The Cougars came into the day after rolling over Vanderbilt University 34-0 last week, while the Bearcats were coming off a 52-7 victory against the University of Central Florida.
The first quarter saw a lot of trading of possession back and forth between the teams, but the Cougars found the end zone first.
Thanks to a blocked punt, the offense started on a short field and drove 20 yards, with senior running back Kenneth Farrow pounding it in from two yards out, putting the Cougars up 7-0.
Cincinnati responded to start the second quarter, with a two-play, 90-yard drive, with quarterback Gunner Kiel finding his receiver Chris Moore in the end zone for the score, tying the game at 7-7.
The Cougars came right back, with junior quarterback Greg Ward Jr. finding junior receiver Chance Allen in the red zone, for the 11-yard score, putting UH back on top 14-7.
Three drives later, the Bearcats again broke open some big plays en route to a score, as Kiel recorded his second passing touchdown of the day to tie the game at 14-14, and the score would carry into halftime.
The Cougars would quickly retake the lead, driving the first possession of the second half the length of the field, where Ward capped it with a screen pass touchdown to senior tight end Tyler McCloskey.
The very next Cincinnati drive, junior cornerback Brandon Wilson picked off Kiel and took it 51 yards for the interception return touchdown, putting the Cougars up 28-14.
UH added two points a few drives later, when senior safety Trevon Stewart sacked Kiel in the end zone for a safety.
The Bearcats would get some points back before the end of the third, driving 99 yards in 1:29 seconds, with Kiel finding Shaq Washington in the end zone from 20 yards out. Cincinnati added a two-point conversion to reduce the lead to one score at 30-22.
Again, UH responded, adding a 29-yard field goal on their next drive to extend the lead to two possessions at 33-22.
Cincinnati put a scare into the Cougars late, as they scored another touchdown with just over five minutes left.
The Bearcats had a chance to tie or take the lead with the final drive of the game, as they took possession with 2:05 left in the game at their own 15-yard line.
With first and 10 from their own 42, Kiel failed to connect with his receivers on four straight passes, as the Bearcats turned the ball over to the Cougars with just over a minute left, as UH survived the late comeback attempt.
After the game, head coach Tom Herman spoke about the importance of getting tested against Cincinnati.
“We haven’t had a four-quarter battle like that since Louisville,” Herman said. “I was really proud of the way, on both sides of the ball, that we responded to that adversity. We knew they were going to score some points and we found a way to win it there at the end.”
Despite the Cougars being outgained on offense by over 150 yards, the Cougars came out with the win, behind the 161 yards passing, 119 yards rushing and two touchdowns from Ward.
The UH defense also had a dynamic night, forcing two interceptions, one returned for a touchdown, and one fumble recovery to aid the offense with additional possessions.
With the win, the Cougars improve to 9-0 this year and 5-0 in the American Athletic Conference, while Cincinnati drops to 5-4 on the year with a 2-3 record in conference.
The Cougars take on the University of Memphis next week in a matchup of two of the top teams in the West division of the AAC.
“We understand that this is certainly the meat of our schedule,” Herman said. “Most of the games down the stretch here are probably going to be like this. For us to take the first step here tonight was important for us.”