Cincinnati 26, Pittsburgh, 23
November 5th, 2011
Heinz Field, Pittsburgh, PA
The Cincinnati Bearcats defeated the Pittsburgh Panthers on Saturday night 26-23, propelling themselves to a commanding lead in the Big East standings.
The Bearcats, the Big East’s only remaining undefeated team, came into Saturday’s game with a chance to move themselves one step closer to another Big East championship.
Cincinnati quarterback Zach Collaros finished the game 19/32 for 214 yards and two interceptions. He did, however, score twice on the ground in his team’s win. His leading receiver, Anthony McClung, caught 4 passes for 73 yards.
Isaiah Pead carried the ball 22 times for the Bearcats, and racked up 118 yards.
With the win, the Bearcats extend their lead on everyone in the Big East. Their closest opponent in the standings is Louisville who has just one loss in conference play. The Bearcats have already beaten the Cardinals, though, and therefore own a possible tiebreaker between the two.
9. In each of the Bearcats first three league games, they have trailed by at least nine points in the second half. Obviously, the Bearcats have won all three of the games, showcasing their heart, their determination, and perhaps their love of drama.
3. The magic number for a third Big East championship in four years for the Cincinnati Bearcats, a number that could fall to one within the next week. The Bearcats, supposedly in the midst of rebuilding season under Butch Jones, are hitting the fast forward button on that process.
The turning point of Saturday’s game came in the last ten minutes of the third quarter. With 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter, Pittsburgh had gone up 23-13 on the Bearcats, and it appeared things were about to get worse as Pittsburgh took over possession yet again. Fortunately, the next three possessions would end in turnovers for the Panthers.
The Bearcats capitalized on each of those possessions, and improbably regained the lead heading into the fourth quarter. There would be no scores in the fourth quarter, and the Bearcats escaped with the win.
Walter Stewart’s achievement probably didn’t go unnoticed by many, but he still gets the award for unsung hero because of the little contributions he made that, in the end, made all the difference for the Bearcats.
Stewart finished the game with 5 tackles, one of which was for a loss. He also finished with 2 pass breakups and a forced the fumble that sparked the Bearcat’s third quarter rally. It’s safe to say that, without Walter Stewart, the Bearcats walk away without a win.
The Bearcats began the game with the ball and moved the ball quickly down the field after Isaiah Pead broke a long run to set them up deep in Pittsburgh territory. Unfortunately, their drive would come up short, and they were forced to settle for a field goal.
After Pittsburgh responded with a field goal of their own, the Bearcat offense was back on the attack. Using a solid mix of run and pass, they moved the ball back into Pittsburgh territory. Again, the drive would end shy of the endzone, and the Bearcats were forced to settle for another field goal.
After Pittsburgh opened the second quarter scoring with a field goal, the Bearcats took over yet again. Unfortunately, they took a step backwards on their next possession when Zach Collaros threw an interception that was returned all the way down to the Bearcat’s four-yard line.
Pittsburgh would punch it in and take a 13-6 lead. On their ensuing possession, the Bearcats showed they could roll with the punches. They battled down the field and tied the game on a Zach Collaros quarterback keeper from four yards out.
Prior to the end of the half, Pittsburgh tacked on a field goal to take a 16-13 lead.
As the third quarter got underway, the Bearcats defense appeared shaky at best. Pittsburgh would take the opening kickoff and methodically move down the field. The drive found the endzone, and the Panthers took a 23-13 lead.
The Bearcats wouldn’t score on their next possession, but as the clock ticked down to eleven minutes remaining in the quarter, things took a major turn. Over the next ten minutes, the Panthers would turn the ball over three times. Each time, the Bearcats would turn them into points, sandwiching a touchdown in between two Tony Miliano field goals, taking a 26-23 lead into the fourth quarter against all odds.
Neither team would score in the fourth quarter, but that doesn’t mean there wasn’t any drama. The teams exchanged punts throughout the quarter until Pittsburgh took over with just under two minutes to go.
The Panthers drove downfield, and set themselves up in field goal position with just a few seconds remaining on the clock. The fifty-yard attempt, however, was just wide to the right, and the Bearcats emerged with the win.
It’s starting to become a familiar topic each and every week – the Bearcats play poorly at times, but find ways to get it done in the end. Like I’ve said time and time again, great teams find ways to win when they don’t show up with their best. For just about the fourth time in as many games, the Bearcats were forced to do just that.
They did it, and for that they should be proud. However one can only help but think that luck may begin to run out on the Bearcats. They’re getting close to their overall goal – a Big East Championship. A win next week would move them extremely close to that goal. To do so, however, they may need to find a way to bring their best to take on the Mountaineers.
Still, it’s hard to ignore the progress that this Bearcat program has made over the past couple of months. Originally, many viewed this season as a possible rebuilding campaign. The Bearcats have had other ideas.