My Favorite Bearcats Football Games
I already covered my favorite Bearcats basketball games. Football is a different beast. Fewer games means fewer opportunities for something special to happen. When you play 40 games a year — many against ranked teams — there are a lot of chances at magic. The Bearcats haven’t had the luxury of playing tons of marquee football games. That said, there is still plenty to remember. Here are my favorites.
1. Bearcats 34, Miami (FL) 23 (10/1/2015)
In the midst of a trying season, this win was much needed. The Bearcats would finish with an uncharacteristically mediocre 7–6 record, but the season still provided what will be one of my lasting memories as a UC student.
With Cincinnati missing QB Gunner Kiel, RB Mike Boone, and WRs Chris Moore and Johnny Holton, the odds seemed stacked heavily against freshman QB Hayden Moore, who would be making his first collegiate start against a team that blasted a fully-healthy UC just a year earlier. Miami ran out of the tunnel like they owned the place, throat-slashing and shushing the student section in their spiffy white uniforms.
But history doesn’t win football games, and the Bearcats led nearly front-to-back. A Nippert-record crowd of 40,101 (dressed head-to-toe in black) bounced all night and then poured onto the field after the final horn. I’ll be honest. This was not worthy of storming the field. Miami was unranked, and we didn’t win at the last second. That said, I made a running jump over the brick wall surrounding Carson Field just like everyone else. I felt kinda stupid, but I needed that.
Nippert is a stadium that’s sneaky-loud. It’s said almost every time the Bearcats play a prime time game. 40,000 seats quickly turns into an echo chamber, given that the stadium is dug into a hole and surrounded by tall structures. I’ve heard a lot of loud games in Clifton. This was probably the loudest. When Hosey Williams broke through the line to put the Bearcats up 7–3, my heart nearly exploded inside my chest. The pocket of Hurricane fans on the east side of the stadium was awfully quiet.
2. Bearcats 48, Duke 24 (12/27/2012)
No coaching staff? No problem. After Butch Jones bolted for Tennessee with most of his coaches, the Bearcats were captained in the 2012 Belk Bowl by defensive line coach Steve Stripling and a hodge-podge of helpers, largely consisting of injured players. The opposition was a Duke team that clawed its way to a 6–6 record and its first bowl appearance in 18 years. They had the luxury of taking on the challenge down the road from campus in Charlotte.
The Bearcats tried to kill me that night.
With the scored deadlocked at 34, the Blue Devils were driving deep into Bearcat territory. Then, with 1:20 remaining, Duke fumbled at the Cincinnati five-yard line. Impending doom had quickly turned to golden opportunity. On the very next play, QB Brendon Kay found TE (and current Chiefs Pro Bowler) Travis Kelce for an improbable 83-yard strike, putting UC on the verge of bowl victory. Duke got their chance to respond, but with 14 seconds left, Bearcat defenders destroyed QB Sean Renfree. Nick Temple snatched the ball out of mid-air and bolted for the icing on the cake.
The ‘Cats are a resounding 0–3 in bowl games since, making this game extra tantalizing in hindsight.
3. Bearcats 54, East Carolina 46 (11/13/2014)
Like many great games, this was exactly as advertised. Two of the premiere defenses in the conference faced off in a Thursday night shootout at Paul Brown Stadium, as Nippert got a face-lift back on campus. It was ruthlessly cold on the banks of the Ohio River that night, so it wasn’t much of a surprise when the crowed thinned as the game wore on deep into the night. Everyone who toughed it out was treated to a thriller.
After trading blows all night, the Pirates staked themselves to a one-point lead with a minute remaining following a rushing TD and a failed two-point conversion. The Bearcats offense had been firing all night, and they had one last shot to win it. Kiel worked his way down the field before finding WR Mekale McKay at the ECU 30-yard line with 29 seconds remaining.
Three plays, three incomplete passes. After being in great position for victory, the ‘Cats suddenly found themselves staring down a 47-yard field goal attempt on the leg of freshman Andrew Gantz.
He nailed it.
The Bearcats defense scored as time expired and it was all over. Ironically, Gantz would double dip a year later, again beating ECU with a field goal as time expired.
4. Bearcats 27, Virginia Tech 24 (9/29/2012)
In late September 2012, the Bearcats travelled to Landover, Maryland in hopes of avenging a loss to Virginia Tech in the 2008 Orange Bowl.
The Hokies took a four-point lead after a 56-yard touchdown pass with less than two minutes remaining. The Bearcats needed 85 yards in 1:43. They charged down the field but eventually ran out of steam, until Legaux was able to find Damon Julian sliding into the endzone for a 39-yard touchdown catch with 13 seconds on the clock.
Legaux and WR Kenbrell Thompkins (now with the NY Jets) both had career games. The Hokies would finish with a middling 7–6 record, but that doesn’t take away the heart-stopping win.
5. Bearcats 34, Pittsburgh 10 (9/6/2012)
This game shares a lot of similarities with #1 on this list. Thursday night. Blackout. Earth-shattering run up the gut to put the Bearcats on the scoreboard. In the Miami game, it was Williams. In this game, it was George Winn. I was in the front row of the student section, jumping up and down like a maniac as Winn ran towards me at a dead sprint, untouched by Panther defenders.
That game was another loud one, and the Bearcats never looked back, winning 34–10 after a garbage time TD by Pitt. It was a blowout. Cincinnati used it to propel themselves to another 10-win season and another conference championship.
6. Bearcats 58, Toledo 34 (9/12/2014)
After a long wait (the Bearcats opened the 2014 season with two bye weeks) the much-anticipated Gunner Kiel era began with a bang. Autumn Friday nights in Cincinnati are typically reserved for high school football, but the Bearcats crashed the party when Toledo came down I-75.
Gunner came out firing. The first play from scrimmage was a 52-yard bomb to McKay. The next play was an incompletion in McKay’s direction, before Kiel quickly corrected himself with a 17-yard touchdown pass to the gangly receiver. The Bearcats would score touchdowns on their first six possessions of the game, and Kiel threw six TDs through the air, tying a school record.
The game also featured the triumphant return of QB Munchie Legaux, who tore two ligaments and cartilage in his knee just a year earlier.
7. Bearcats 42, Purdue 7 (8/31/2013)
The polar opposite of #3 on this list, this was a Saturday noon kickoff, and temperatures were in the 90s. The Bearcats, who had planned the whiteout months earlier, reaped the benefits of their uniforms, while the Boilermakers were relegated to slogging around the Nippert turf in all-black.
I don’t know if clothing was to blame, but Purdue got walloped in front of a then-record crowd to open the Tommy Tuberville era. The two teams traded interceptions on their opening possessions, and then Purdue missed a 39-yard field goal. It had the makings of a struggle. Not so.
Things started rolling for the Bearcats, who were quickly throwing points on the board. Despite the heat, this game was loads of fun, only improved by the opportunity to remind Purdue that — even though they’re in the Big Ten — they’re consistently worse than most teams in the country.
8. Bearcats 31, Vanderbilt 24 (12/31/2011)
The 2012 Liberty Bowl featured a head coaching match-up between James Franklin (now at Penn State) and Butch Jones (now at Tennessee). The Commodores were looking for their second bowl victory since 1955, and, like Duke the following year, were playing a bowl game in their home state.
Vandy had a 21–17 lead late when Ralph David Abernathy IV took a kickoff 90 yards to the house to put the Bearcats ahead for good. Isaiah Pead would later seal the victory with a rushing touchdown.
Perhaps the most remarkable thing about this game was QB Zach Collaros returning from injury. He had broken his ankle in a heartbreaking loss to West Virginia just 6 weeks earlier and clawed back to start his final game as a Bearcat.
9. Bearcats 59, Akron 14 (9/17/2011)
I think everyone remembers their first college football game. UC was on the quarter system at the time, so the home opener came a couple weeks before the semester began. My first glimpse of the Bearcats was 2011 Week 3. The Bearcats came out and boat raced an Akron team that was way over-matched. They led 59–0 at the beginning of the 4th Quarter before calling off the dogs.
The Bearcats didn’t exactly rack up yards, but only because they didn’t have to. The defense was the MVP, and the ‘Cats forced six turnovers, three of them defensive touchdowns.
10. #19 Louisville 31, Bearcats 24 (OT) (12/5/2013)
I guess if the basketball list can have a Bearcats loss on it, so can the football list. This game was loads of fun and loads of heartbreak. It was early December in Cincinnati, which means 40 degrees and rain. And when you want to sit in the front row of the student section, that means arriving two hours before kickoff to stand in that rain. By the time the final whistle sounded after overtime I had been in the rain for over six hours. And we lost.
It was the final matchup with longtime rival Louisville in the game referred to as The Battle for the Keg of Nails. The Cards were bolting for higher ground in the ACC the following year with no sequel in sight. I desperately wanted this one. Instead, Teddy Bridgewater happened. The Bearcats battled back to force OT on the bum ankle of Kay, but the strength of a first round NFL Draft pick at QB is usually tough to overcome.
This was also the final game in “Old Nippert.” The morning after the game, demolition crews had already descended upon the stadium, preparing for the 20-month renovation ahead.