Ralph Abernathy scored on a 90-yard kickoff 24, in the Liberty Bowl on Saturday.
George Winn ran for a 69-yard touchdown in the first half for the Bearcats (10-3), who turned things around after going 4-8 in head coach Butch Jones' first season.
Zach Collaros was on the sidelines when Cincinnati clinched a share of the Big East Conference title. He returned from a broken right ankle, but was limited to only 79 yards on 12-of-29 passing with two interceptions. The senior quarterback did throw a touchdown pass, however.
Isaiah Pead, the Big East Conference Offensive Player of the Year, gained 150 yards on 28 carries and notched a game-sealing touchdown late in regulation, helping the Bearcats avoid a third straight bowl loss.
Cincinnati's most recent postseason triumph was a 31-21 win over Southern Mississippi in the Papajohns.com Bowl in 2007.