Gunner Kiel threw four touchdown passes, and freshman Andrew Gantz kicked a career-best 47-yard field goal with 15 seconds left on Thursday night, rallying Cincinnati to a 54-46 victory over East Carolina.
East Carolina's Shane Carden threw two touchdown passes in the fourth quarter and ran 2 yards for a go-ahead score with 62 seconds left. Kiel and the Bearcats (6-3, 4-1) pulled it out in a matchup of the American Athletic Conference's top offenses.
Kiel led Cincinnati in range for Gantz's field goal, and the Bearcats returned a desperation lateral for a touchdown on the final play.
The comeback overcame a gamble that backfired. Cincinnati went for it on fourth-and-2 from its 33-yard line, and Kiel's errant pitch-out was fumbled with 2:03 left. Carden's touchdown run gave East Carolina (6-3, 3-2) its second lead of the game.
Kiel was 29 f 44 for 436 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions. It was Kiel's best showing since the third game of the season, when he hurt his ribs.
East Carolina's Justin Hardy had 15 catches for 181 yards with one touchdown, leaving him three catches shy of the FBS career receiving record. Oklahoma's Ryan Broyles holds the mark with 349 receptions. Hardy also had a 7-yard touchdown run on a reverse.
Carden was 35 of 61 for 418 yards and the two touchdowns in the fourth quarter.
East Carolina was coming off a 20-10 loss at Temple that was set up by five turnovers on a rainy day and knocked the Pirates out of the Top 25. East Carolina is the only AAC team that's been ranked this season.
Kiel lasted for only one pass during Cincinnati's 38-14 win at Tulane on Oct. 31, leaving because his bruised ribs prevented him from getting anything on his throws. He healed during a bye week and was on target at the outset Thursday.
His receivers helped a lot, too, by slipping away from defenders after catches. Mekale McKay took his short sideline pass, slipped through linebacker Maurice Falls' arms and went 55 yards for a touchdown on Cincinnati's third play of the game.
Kiel's third touchdown pass of the first half was a long throw to Chris Moore, who caught the ball at the 20-yard line, spun away from Josh Hawkins, and completed the 66-yard play.
The Pirates couldn't hold down Kiel, who led two late touchdown drives in the second quarter for a 31-20 halftime lead. The Pirates hadn't allowed more than 20 points in an opening half this season.
And after Kiel's errant pitch-out gave the Pirates a chance at the end, he led them on the drive to Gantz's winning kick against a defense that hadn't allowed any points in the fourth quarter all season.
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