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Big East Champions

Cincinnati 35, Connecticut, 20
December 3rd, 2011
Nippert Stadium, Cincinnati, Ohio

Senior Long Snapper Tom DeTemple holds the Big East Trophy (photo credit: Pat Strang/513 Photography)

Summary

The Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3, 5-2 Big East) defeated the Connecticut Huskies (5-7, 3-4 Big East) on Saturday afternoon to clinch a share of their third Big East Championship in four years.

With their 35-20 win over the Huskies, the Bearcats have reached 9 wins for the third time in four years and have ensured themselves of a return to the post-season. With the Cincinnati win, West Virginia will claim the Big East’s BCS Bowl berth barring any unforeseen change in the BCS standings.

As for Saturday’s game, the Bearcats we on fire early. The Bearcat defense was able to score twice in the first quarter and put the Bearcats in front by 14.

Despite a furious Connecticut comeback in the second half, but Bearcats survived. Still, they made it harder than it had to be. After leading 28-3 at one point in the game, the Bearcats allowed Connecticut to bring the lead all the way down to 35-27 with just over five minutes remaining.

Quarterback Munchie Legaux performed admirably for the Bearcats, completing 15-of-35 passes for 217 yards and 3 touchdowns. Munchie’s two interceptions came via a batted pass and a dropped pass.

Legaux, whose three touchdown passes marked a career high, spread the ball around on Saturday, completing passes to X different receivers. His top target, Anthony McClung, finished the game with 8 catches for 142 yards and two touchdowns.

Butch Jones Speaks

Butch Jones (photo credit: Brian Baker/Lacking Focus Photography)

On winning a Big East Championship:

“They created a memory today that will last a lifetime by winning a championship at Nippert Stadium on that field on senior day. I told our team at the beginning of the year that we would be defined by how we respond to adversity. We took some shots, but we found a way to hang in there and win a football game. It was a great team win and I’m just very proud of everyone associated with our football program.”

On the offensive line:

“Some of the toughest individuals I have ever met are on the offensive line. Randy Martinez can barely walk during practice and he’s a warrior. After we lost to Rutgers, Evan Davis didn’t practice all week. Then when we were on the bus to Rutgers he looks at me and said, ‘coach, I need to practice.’ The offensive line, I just can’t say enough about them.”

On the fans:

“To everyone out there – go and buy your bowl tickets. We need to have a strong showing wherever we go. We need to make sure everyone knows that Bearcat fans are the best fans in the nation. We want to make this the hottest ticket in the city. We are a football program that the entire city of Cincinnati can look at and say, ‘this is our team!” I mean that sincerely.”

On the turnaround from last season:

“It means a lot. Sometimes you have to lose to really appreciate this. You never take winning for granted; the margin of victory is very minimal, very small. Just the effort, being home over the holidays, shoot I was so disappointed, I left the country and hid in Canada for a little bit. I knew our players were disappointed. When we came back on January 3 and had our team meeting that night, I could see a very focused football team, very prideful. The way we have conducted our business, we’ve managed ourselves both on and off the field. If you remember we talked about 2011, our motto was ‘Be a Champion.’ Before we could be champions, our team had to be comprised of individual champions by the way they represented themselves, by going to class and by the way they work. When we have a team comprised of individual champions, that gives you an opportunity to win a championship and we were able to do that today.”

Walter Stewart celebrates after his sack, forced fumble, fumble recovery for TD. (photo credit: Pat Strang/513 Photography)

From The Locker Room

Junior defensive lineman Walter Stewart

On his first quarter touchdown:
“I saw the quarterback getting ready to throw, so I just reached out and took the ball from him. Luckily, it was in the end zone. It was surprising for me. You’d think he’d have a little more awareness being that he was in the end zone. But, he held the ball one more second and I just made the play. Not too many times do you get a sack in the end zone and get the football out in the same play. The percentages are real low on that. I’ve never done it in college, but in high school you can get away with a lot more. It’s something I’ve thought about throughout the season. That if I could just get close enough I could just take the ball out and not have to hit him or anything. I’m just happy that I had the opportunity to make the play.”

Senior defensive lineman Derek Wolfe

On his last game at Nippert Stadium:
“When you play at The Nipp, it’s a different animal. We practice out here. And we’re banging against each other out here every day. This is our backyard. We’re out here every day. We walk past this every single day on the way to class. So, there is just a different attitude out here and it just takes you over.”

On playing for head coach Butch Jones:

“To us, especially to me, it’s a love for the guys around you. He really instilled playing hard for the guys around you. He instilled in me that the harder you play the more plays you’ll make.”

Sophomore quarterback Munchie Legaux

Munchie Legaux (photo credit: Pat Strang/513 Photography)

On the offense’s play vs. UConn:
“It was okay. We could have done a lot better. But, overall we did a good job. We had a few mistakes that we left out there; dropped passes and missed balls. But, overall we did okay.”

On the goal of winning BIG EAST title:
“It was a big goal. We set that goal when we came back January 1 after not having a bowl game last year. We made our minds up then that this year we were going to be BIG EAST Champs no matter what it takes to do it. All the workouts at 6 a.m. that we did paid off.”

On the outcome of USF/WVU game:
“We knew that if (WVU) lost we had BCS hopes. But, at the same time, we knew that that game didn’t affect our game on Saturday and playing for the BIG EAST Championship.”

Sophomore wide receiver Anthony McClung

On if he knew today was going to be a big game for him:
“I didn’t really know. We really game planned for (Isaiah) Pead a lot and for him to get the ball. I knew I was going to get a lot of bubble, so they told me to always be ready for the deep routes. And we called them this game.”

Senior linebacker JK Schaffer

On Walter Stewart and his defensive touchdown:
“I was pass dropping and all of sudden they were getting some pressure. I was like, ‘where’d the ball go?’ and Walt starts dancing. It was a weird play but great. Anytime you can score on defense it’s huge. It helps out the entire team and gets the crowd involved too. It was a great play by Walt. He’s a great player and he’ll continue making those plays into the bowl game and next season. I think of Walt as a senior. He plays like a senior. He acts like a senior. And he leads like a senior. So, if Walt isn’t a captain next year, something is wrong.”

On the senior class:

JK Schaffer (Pat Strang/513 Photography)

“The senior class has been through a lot together. We’ve won three championships. Last year was rough on us. We got together as seniors and talked about how we were going to make the team better and make our team successful again. The plan worked. Coach Jones and the rest of the staff did a great job of developing good habits in us. Coach (Dave) Lawson in the weight room. They just did a great job preparing us to win and to be successful. They set us up for success.”

On if last season made UC more appreciative of winning:
“Absolutely, we’re sitting there in December and January watching bowl games from our couch. That definitely motivates you. The senior class now, we weren’t used to losing. We came in and the team was really good. None of us played a whole lot, but we won the BIG EAST and went to the Orange Bowl. So we were used to winning and that was it. Last year was a wake-up call. I’m just glad we got it corrected and did our job.”

Key Numbers

14. The number of points scored by the Bearcat defense. The first fourteen points of the game were scored by Cincinnati’s defense. The first touchdown came when Walter Stewart stripped the ball from Connecticut quarterback Johnny McEntee in the endzone, and the second came when Drew Frey jumped a McEntee pass and trotted into the endzone to give the Bearcats a 14-point cushion.

21. The number of seniors that played their final game at Nippert Stadium on Saturday. The Bearcats lose stars on both sides of the ball. Zach Collaros and DJ Woods will be absent in next year’s offense, and the Bearcats will need to find a leader on defense to replace JK Schaeffer.

Did you notice?

On one play in the first quarter, Walter Stewart recorded a sack, a tackle-for-loss, a forced fumble, a fumble recovery, and a touchdown when he broke through the Connecticut offensive line and simply took the ball out of Connecticut quarterback Johnny McEntee’s hands in the endzone and held it in his own – the ball never hit the ground.

Turning Point

Drew Frey (Pat Strang/513 Photography)

The turning point of the game came after Drew Frey intercepted Johnny McEntee’s pass and returned it for a touchdown. The score gave the Bearcats an early 14-0 lead, and that would be all they would need.

Unsung Hero

Today’s unsung hero award goes to all 21 of the seniors on this year’s team. While many remembered the previous two classes for their work towards making the program what it is today, this year’s class goes under the radar at times. Players like Isaiah Pead, Derek Wolfe, and DJ Woods opened the door to an entirely new world of recruiting for UC by choosing the Bearcats over more “traditional programs.” Players like JK Schaeffer showed why hard work trumps hype by entering a program as an unheralded recruit and turning himself into a defensive star. All in all, this group of seniors did everything they could to get UC to where it is today. And, in the end, they fought through injury and adversity to get the team back to nine wins in 2011.

Medic Minute

The Bearcats appeared to escape Saturday’s win with no significant injuries, and the team should be healthy for their upcoming bowl game.

First Quarter

The Bearcats’ first possession netted zero points, but it pinned the Huskies deep inside their own territory. This was significant because, after a few Connecticut penalties had the Huskies in the shadow of their own goal, Walter Stewart would make one of the most memorable plays of the season for the Bearcats.

On a third-and-long, Connecticut quarterback Johnny McEntee was forced to scramble into his own endzone. Stewart was able to chase McEntee down and simply take the ball out of his hands in the endzone for a score.

With Bearcats on top 7-0 and on the move, Munchie Legaux hit Anthony McClung over the middle to set the Bearcats up inside the Connecticut 30-yard line. However, on the next play, Legaux’s pass, intended for Isaiah Pead, was batted at the line and intercepted.

The play ended a potential scoring drive for the Bearcats, but fortunately it didn’t affect the flow of the game. The Huskies would go three-and-out on their next possession, and a solid return by Isaiah Pead set the Bearcats back up at midfield.

The possession would stall, but on the Huskies’ ensuing possession, the Bearcat defense struck again. With the Huskies again pinned deep in their own territory, Drew Frey jumped a route and intercepted Johnny McEntee’s pass. Frey trotted into the endzone to give the Bearcats a 14-0 lead heading into the second quarter.

Second Quarter

The second quarter started with the Bearcats making a stop on third down and regaining possession. Once they had the ball, the offense showed their ability to wear the Huskies down. A heavy dose of Isaiah Pead had the Huskies on their heels, and as the Bearcats continued to move down the field, you could see the Huskies’ fatigue taking its toll.

With the Huskies packing the box, and a lot of man coverage on the outside, the Bearcats were able to take advantage. On first down, Munchie Legaux found Alex Chisum in the corner and delivered a beautiful ball that Chisum was able to haul in for six. The Bearcats lead was 21-0 early in the second quarter.

After another defensive stand for the Bearcats, disaster struck. With the Bearcats inside their won 15-yard line, some miscommunication resulted in a fumble that Connecticut recovered just outside the 10-yard line.

After the Bearcat defense held Connecticut to just a field goal on that drive, the offense took the field ready to strike again. Using a solid mix of run and pass, the Bearcats were able to easily move down the field against a winded Connecticut defense. The drive ended when Munchie Legaux found Anthony McClung over the middle for an easy score.

Alex Chisum (photo credit: Pat Strang/513 Photography)

With the Bearcats leading 28-3, the half appeared to end on an incomplete toss to the endzone by Connecticut. However, a botched roughing the passer call by the officials resulted in Connecticut tacking on a late field goal to move the score to 28-6 as time expired.

Third Quarter

The third quarter got off to a slow start for both teams. In fact, until Connecticut was able to add a long field with 9 minutes to go in the quarter, neither team was able to mount a drive into the other team’s territory.

With the score sitting at 28-9, a seemingly complacent Bearcat offense continued to struggle to move to the ball. Another three-and-out would give the Huskies the ball.

The teams would continue to exchange possession until the end of the third quarter when the Huskies were again able to mount a drive. A long completion on third-and-long set them up inside the Bearcat 30. The drive would stall, however, and David Teggart was forced to kick his fourth field goal of the game. Teggart was able to make it a perfect 4-of-4 and bring the Huskies to within 16.

The third quarter ended will for Cincinnati. With time running down, the Bearcats found themselves on the move after another great kickoff return by Ralph David Abernathy set them up in Connecticut territory. The Bearcats would finish the drive in style with Munchie Legaux found Anthony McClung for the eighth time on the day, this time for 31 yards and a touchdown.

Fourth Quarter

The fourth quarter began with the Huskies in possession and on the move. Cameron Cheatham continued to struggle in the secondary, and the Huskies were able to take advantage. A Johnny McEntee touchdown pass and a successful two-point conversion brought the score to 35-20 and forced Bearcat fans to stick around until the end.

Things got even hairier when the Bearcats turned it over again on their next possession. A Munchie Legaux pass went through the hands on Anthony McClung and found its way into the hands of a Connecticut defender. On the very next play, Connecticut would strike, scoring on a long pass play that would bring them to within eight.

Fortunately, the Bearcat offense came alive on its last possession of the game. Isaiah Pead made an appearance after being nearly invisible for the entire game, and his work on the ground all but put the game away.

Final Thoughts

The Cincinnati Bearcats are a 9-win team yet again. After last year’s setback, this season’s results must put a smile on the faces of Bearcat fans everywhere. Despite failing to reach their goal of a BCS game, the Bearcats can still call themselves champions for the third time in just four years. With the win, the Bearcats will share the 2011 Big East Football Championship with the West Virginia Mountaineers and the Louisville Cardinals.

The team will now move forward to bowl season, with their most likely destination being the Liberty Bowl on December 31st against the Vanderbilt Commodores in Memphis Tennessee. With a win, the Bearcats would reach the 10-win plateau for the third time in four years, and would get their first bowl win since they beat Southern Miss in the Papa John’s bowl in 2007.

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