(Saturday, December 5th)
Final Score: (5) Cincinnati 45, (14) Pittsburgh 44
Pittsburgh, PA (Sports Network) - Tony Pike found Armon Binns with a 29-yard touchdown pass with 33 seconds remaining and the extra point by Jake Rogers gave fifth-ranked Cincinnati a stunning 45-44 come-from-behind victory over No. 14 Pittsburgh in a thrilling Big East finale at Heinz Field.
Cincinnati (12-0, 7-0 Big East) rallied from a 21-point first-half deficit and captured its second straight outright Big East title. The Bearcats lost their outside chance of reaching the BCS National Championship Game after Texas edged Nebraska, 13-12, in the Big 12 title game Saturday night.
Mardy Gilyard sparked Cincinnati's comeback with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown and a 68-yard TD catch. He finished with 118 yards receiving on five catches and also totaled 256 yards on seven kickoff returns.
"That was just a great football game. When you imagine a championship game, the snow falling and the stands packed and two outstanding football teams just going after it, this game was it," said Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly. "It was special to be a part of and I told the guys that I was honored to be their coach. These guys are a special group of guys and they stuck to our motto of just keep fighting."
The loss spoiled a tremendous day for Pittsburgh freshman Dion Lewis, who ran for 194 yards and three touchdowns on a school-record 47 carries. He also caught five passes for 34 yards.
Pittsburgh (9-3, 5-2) was coming off a 19-16 loss to arch-rival West Virginia in the annual Backyard Brawl last week and raced out a 31-10 lead on Saturday in an effort to claim a share of the Big East title and the conference's BCS bowl berth.
Instead, it will be the Bearcats going to a major bowl for the second straight year. Cincinnati lost to Virginia Tech last year in the Orange Bowl.
After Cincinnati tied the game at 38-38 with 5:46 remaining on a one-yard run by Isaiah Pead and a two-point conversion catch by Gilyard, the Panthers went back in front on a five-yard touchdown run by Lewis with 1:36 left. The snap on the extra point attempt was botched and the Panthers led only by six.
Gilyard returned the ensuing kickoff 26 yards to the Cincinnati 39 and Pike went right to work with completions of seven and 10 yards. Gilyard then hauled in a 15-yard pass and Pike went to another receiver on the next play, hitting Binns on the right sideline for the touchdown.
Rogers, who earlier in the fourth quarter hit the right upright on a point- after try, drilled it through for the go-ahead point.
"We run the two-minute drill all the time in practice and I knew we had a chance to win at the end of the game and we needed to react," said Pike. "In the beginning of the game, we were forcing things and over thinking and as the game went on, we were more patient and we were reacting. The defense was there for us. They weren't in position in the first half and they were missing tackles and we made the adjustment at the half and got some stops. It was a typical championship game in order for us to win back-to-back Big East titles."
The Panthers took over at their own 18 after the kickoff and Bill Stull threw incomplete on three straight passes before being sacked on fourth down to seal the incredible Cincinnati comeback.
Stull completed 13-of-21 passes for 176 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions. He also ran for a score. Jonathan Baldwin caught six passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns in defeat.
Pike rebounded from a terrible first half and finished 22-of-44 passing for 302 yards with three touchdowns and three picks. Pead ran for 76 yards on nine carries in the victory.
After Cincinnati went three-and-out to start the game, Pittsburgh rode Lewis to a score on its first offensive series. Lewis ran 11 times and caught a pass on the 12-play, 56-yard series. He converted 4th-and-1 with a four-yard run and finished the 6 1/2-minute drive with a four-yard touchdown run.
The Bearcats answered with a 66-yard march for a touchdown. Pead broke free for 40 yards on the second play and Jacob Ramsey finished the seven-play set with a two-yard scoring run. The drive was aided by a pass interference penalty on a third-down incomplete pass in the end zone two plays before the touchdown.
Pittsburgh again used a 12-play drive -- and an overturned call -- to reach the end zone on its next possession. Lewis again did the bulk of the work with seven carries and a reception, also converting another short fourth down with a four-yard run. The Panthers were set to attempt a field goal after a pass to the end zone was ruled incomplete, but a video review determined that Baldwin got one foot down on a 22-yard reception in the first minute of the second quarter to give Pittsburgh a 14-7 lead.
Cincinnati followed with a march inside the Pittsburgh five, again with the help of a pass interference penalty in the end zone, but the Panthers were able to hold the Bearcats to a 20-yard field goal by Rogers.
It took just 44 seconds for the Panthers to respond, as a flea flicker resulted in a 40-yard touchdown pass from Stull to Baldwin for a 21-10 lead.
Pike was picked off by Dom DeCicco on the ensuing series, giving Pittsburgh the ball at the Cincinnati 49. The Panthers tacked on three more after the turnover, as Dan Hutchins booted a 33-yard field goal with 4:53 left in the half.
The problems for Cincinnati continued on the next possession, as Nate Nix blocked a Bearcat punt. The Panthers took over on the Cincinnati five-yard line and Stull scored on a three-yard scramble to make it 31-10 just 1:26 before the break.
Gilyard, though, breathed life back into the Bearcats on the following kickoff, returning it 99 yards for a touchdown.
"I thought the kickoff return for a touchdown completely changed the momentum of the game," admitted Pittsburgh coach Dave Wannstedt. "I thought we had it in the first half. We knew Gilyard was good. The first three kickoffs, he didn't get past the 25."
The Cincinnati defense finally forced a Pittsburgh punt and a short kick with a personal foul penalty gave the Bearcats the ball at the Panthers 35. Pike, though was picked off by Elijah Fields on the first play and Pittsburgh appeared set to score again before the half with the ball at the Cincinnati 44. Stull went deep and was intercepted by Aaron Webster, and the Bearcats got far enough to try a 55-yard field goal on the last play of the half that came up well short and wide.
After a trade of punts to start the third quarter, Gilyard again provided the fireworks with a 68-yard touchdown. He caught a pass from Pike at the Pittsburgh 40 and outraced the remaining defenders to the end zone to pull the Bearcats within 31-24 with 8:12 to play in the period.
Cincinnati got the ball back after a Pitt punt and Pike was again picked off, this time by Jarred Holley at the Panther 17 late in the third. Stull, though, was intercepted on the first play of the fourth quarter inside the Cincinnati 10.
A short punt gave Pittsburgh possession at the Cincinnati 32 and Lewis ran four straight times -- the last a 15-yard jaunt for a score and a 38-24 lead with 12:26 remaining.
Gilyard's 49-yard return on the next kickoff set up a short field and Pike needed four plays to find the end zone, hitting DJ Woods with an eight-yard TD pass. Rogers hit the upright on the point-after try, leaving the Bearcats down eight.
Pittsburgh went three-and-out and Pike marched the Cincinnati offense 68 yards on seven plays for Pead's tying score and the two-point pass.
Lewis registered his seventh straight 100-yard game. He broke the old record of 42 carries set by Craig "Ironhead" Heyward in a 1987 game against Notre Dame...Gilyard notched his fourth career kickoff return for a touchdown. He also had one punt return for seven yards...The Bearcats outgained the Panthers, 371-369, despite Pittsburgh's overwhelming possession edge. The Panthers held the ball for just over 39 minutes...Cincinnati has won the last two meetings after Pittsburgh captured each of the first seven.
12/05 23:50:09 ET