Mountaineers come up short
Published: Sunday, November 15, 2009
Updated: Sunday, November 15, 2009 23:11
For the second-consecutive year, Cincinnati needed just three points to eliminate West Virginia from Big East Conference Championship contention.
The No. 5 Bearcats held off a late rally to down the Mountaineers (7-3, 3-2 Big East) 24-21 at Nippert Stadium Friday.
"We took the fifth-ranked team in the country to 24-21, we just came up three points short," said WVU head coach Bill Stewart. "The team will just have to take this in stride as a learning experience."
UC, who entered the game as the nation's third-best offense, escaped with the win in unconventional fashion.
Cincinnati (10-0, 6-0 Big East) lost its first fumble of the season, missed a field goal and threw only its fifth interception of the year.
The Bearcats recovered a WVU onside kick with 36 seconds remaining to secure the victory.
Former Heisman Trophy frontrunner Tony Pike returned for Cincinnati after a reinjuring his non-throwing forearm in UC's game against South Florida. Despite playing in red zone situations only, Pike through for two touchdowns on two-for-four passing.
The Bearcats outgained the Mountaineers 437-390 in total yardage with 188 yards coming from tailback Isaiah Pead. The tailback finished with a career-high 175 yards rushing on 18 carries including two rushes over 40 yards.
Pead's two-yard touchdown in the second quarter that was initially ruled a fumble but later overturned tied the game 14-14 heading into halftime.
Still, it was the first time this season that the UC offense was held under 30 points.
"All I know is that West Virginia lost. If you don't win, nothing else really matters," said WVU defensive coordinator Jeff Casteel.
"We tried to adjust to (the run) in the second half, but obviously we didn't do a very good job of it."
Down 10 with 39 seconds remaining, WVU quarterback Jarrett Brown found receiver Bradley Starks in the back of the end zone for the 3-yard score to bring WVU within three.
Cincinnati receiver Armon Binns, however, came down with the Josh Lider onside kick to secure the victory.
One possession before WVU's final score, West Virginia failed to convert on a 4th-and-8, turning the ball over to Cincinnati who would drive 56 yards and go up 10 points on a Jake Rogers 38-yard field goal with 2:08 left.
"I was going to kick the field goal and go with the onside kick," Stewart said on his decision to go for it on fourth down. "If we'd go to 21-17, we couldn't stop them – they're that good. So I could not go to the field goal. I wanted to play to win, not to play to keep it close."
Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros made his fourth consecutive start for the Bearcats and ended 17-for-24 with 205 yards while Brown finished 17-for-25 for 188 yards through the air while adding an 8-yard rushing touchdown to the tie the game in the first quarter.
Freshman fullback Ryan Clarke scored the Mountaineers' only other score – a 37-yard touchdown in the second quarter that gave WVU its only lead of the game. Clarke finished with a career-high 60 yards on just five carries.
Tailback Noel Devine finished with 88 yards on 25 carries despite nursing multiple leg injuries that kept him out of the game on WVU's final two possessions.
"We started running the ball and converting off of that," Clarke said. "We kept doing it, and it was working to be honest. I don't know how we lost."
One possession after Cincinnati scored on its first drive of the game, the Bearcats lost their first fumble of the season as WVU cornerback Keith Tandy stripped UC tight end Adrien Robinson, a loose ball, which was recovered by safety Sidney Glover.
The Mountaineers capitalized when Brown scored on an 8-yard touchdown on a scramble up the middle to tie the game 7-7 with 3:19 remaining in the first.
West Virginia benefited from another Bearcat mistake early in the second quarter as UC kicker Jake Rogers missed a 33-yard field goal attempt.
On WVU's ensuing possession, Clarke broke free for a 37-yard touchdown on a third-and-two to give the Mountaineers their first lead of the game with 8:05 remaining in the first half.