The 52nd edition of the Keg of Nails rivalry game ended in heart breaking fashion for Cincinnati as they fell short 34-31 to the Louisville Cardinals in overtime.
The Bearcats lead by as many as 10 points in the 2nd half, but it wasn't enough as Louisville QB Teddy Bridgewater threw for 416 yards and 2 touchdowns to Louisville native DeVante Parker who finished with 120 yards on only 4 receptions.
The Cincinnati offense was led by Ralph David Abernathy IV who produced two scores on the ground and George Winn that chruned out 124 yards on 24 carries.
Unfortunately it was another inconsistent performance for Cincinnati QB Munchie Legaux. The junior had his moments with a rushing touchdown in the first half and a late strike to Damon Julian to send the game to overtime. The bad side was again completing less than 50% of his attempts and turning it over at a critical juncture in the game.
He finished 13-28 for 157 yards in the air, and saw his defense hold strong on two interceptions in regulation to keep Louisville off the board. That wasn't the case in OT as Legaux ended the only Bearcat possession with a poor throw to TE Travis Kelce that gave the ball back to the Cards and all but ended the 4 year streak Cincinnati had run off in the rivalry game.
It was a disappointing end to a night that could have easily went in favor of Cincinnati several times, but too many mistakes doomed head coach Butch Jones and his squad in the end.
The Cincinnati defense started strong as they forced a three and out on the first possession of the night for Louisville, and they turned solid field position into a 47 yard Tony Miliano field goal to take an early 3-0 lead.
The second series for Bridgewater was quick and efficient as the Louisville QB connected with DeVante Parker for 17 yards and Andrell Smith for 50 on the next play to set up a 1 yard touchdown run by Jeremy Wright to give the Cards their first advantage of the night at 7-3 with 8:42 remaining in the 1st quarter.
Cincinnati couldn't answer on their next possession as a Legaux conversion on 3rd down was negated by a holding penalty and on the next play the junior QB was intercepted to give Louisville the ball at their own 43.
The Bearcat defense came alive again with a hold on 4th and 5 from their own 33 to give the ball back to Legaux and company. This time the result was a 9 play, 67 yard drive that was capped off by a spectacular 14 yard touchdown run by Ralph David Abernathy IV.
The speedy 5-7 back seemed to be in trouble when he took the reverse pitch 20 yards from pay dirt and put a quick hesitation move on the first defender and turned the corner untouched the rest of the way.
Senior LB Maalik Bomar accounted for the first Cincinnati turnover of the game as he picked off Bridgewater deep in Cardinal territory, and Legaux made quick work of things as he ran it in for 6 from 4 yards out to cap off the 4 play 19 yard drive. The interception was the first career pick for Bomar, and it couldn't have come at a more opportune time for the Bearcats.
Louisville answered on the ensuing drive with a methodical 13 play, 80 drive that was capped by an 8 yard TD run by Senorise Perry to cut the Cincinnati lead to 17-14 with 2:38 remaining in the half.
The weather conditions were clearly a factor for both quarterbacks as Legaux finished the half 4-15 with 2 interceptions and only 54 yards in the air while Bridgewater went 9-22 for 154 and an interception.
The Cincinnati offense went up tempo to start the 2nd half as they marched 73 yards down the field in 10 plays and capped the drive with another score by Ralph David Abernathy from 4 yards out to take a 24-14 lead that silenced the crowd at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Louisville seemed poised to answer right back as they drove down to the 7 yard line to give themselves first and goal, but the Cincinnati defense was able to get off the field allowing only a 26 yard field goal by John Wallace to cut the lead to 24-14. The 14 play, 66 yard drive encompassed 6:59 of the 3rd quarter, but getting off the field allowing only 3 was big for the Bearcats.
The two teams traded empty possessions after the hot start to the 3rd quarter and headed into the 4th with Cincinnati still holding a 24-17 advantage.
It didn't hold up for long though as Bridgewater found his groove once again early in the 4th. After a Pat O'Donnell punt pinned Louisville at their own 7 yard line, the UL signal caller went deep on the first play and found Damian Copeland for a 51 yard gain to get things moving in a big way.
Two plays later Bridgewater went deep again, and this time it was DeVante Parker on the receiving end from 30 yards out to cap off the momentum changing 4 play, 93 yard drive to pull even.
Cincinnati put itself in position to regain the lead with under 3 minutes remaining as the offense drove to the Louisville 29, but Travis Kelce dropped an easy catch on 3rd and 6 to keep the drive alive, and Tony Miliano missed from 36 yards into the wind to give the ball back to Louisville.
Louisville once again didn't need long to capitalize as Bridgewater once again went over the top to Parker on the second play of the drive. This time it was for 64 yards and a score that put Louisville up 31-24 with () remaining.
Legaux would have one final shot to lead his squad down the field, and his life was made a little easier as Abernathy returned the kick () yards to set up field position.
Four plays later Cincinnati was back on the board as Damon Julian hauled in a 26 yard pass to even the score at 31 and put things back in the hands of Bridgewater and the Cards with 0:58 remaining.
A 30 yard completion started the drive, but Cam Cheatham got to Bridgewater on a corner blitz to force 3rd and 16 and a holding penalty on Louisville pushed it back 10 yards more. That all but wrapped up regulation, and the 52nd edition of the Keg Of Nails rivalry was headed to overtime.
Two runs up the middle started over time for Cincinnati and produced one yard, and on 3rd and 9 Legaux threw short for Travis Kelcie in the end zone and Terrell Floyd made the east interception to all but seal the Bearcats fate.
After picking up 12 yards in 6 plays Louisville lined up for a game winning field goal. The snap went through the hands of holder Will Stein, but a time out called by Butch Jones killed the near disaster for Louisville and allowed John Wallace to connect from 30 yards away to give the Cardinals their first Keg of Nails victory since 2007.
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