Cincinnati kicked off the Big East College Bowl season in Charlotte, North Carolina in the Belk Bowl against the Duke Blue Devils on Thursday Night. The game was a close one until the time ticked below the final two minute mark, when the Bearcats capitalized on turnovers and bested Duke by 14 points to get the win 48-34.
The Blue Devils got off to a fast start in the first quarter, putting up 16 points compared to the Bearcats’ 3. Duke’s Brandon Connette ended the team’s opening drive with a five yard touchdown run, putting the Blue Devils up by seven early. After UC struggled with their first possession, going three and out, Duke answered with a Ross Martin 33 yard field goal kick, making the score 10-0 with 6:12 left in the first quarter.
On the Bearcats’ next possession, the team went three and out again. When the punt team attempted to kick the ball away to the Blue Devils, Tony Foster blocked the punt for another Duke touchdown. The score was quickly 16-0 with the opening quarter ticking away. With 1:43 left in the quarter, Tony Miliano got the first points on the board for Cincy with a 45 yard field goal.
In Duke’s first possession of the second quarter, Cincinnati’s Greg Blair forced a Jela Duncan fumble that turned the momentum in the game. After the fumble, the Bearcats scored 14 unanswered points. Brendon Kay hit Anthony McClung for a 25 yard touchdown, and then found Ralph Abernathy through the air for a 41 yard touchdown grab. The teams went into halftime after a Ross Martin missed field goal and a 17-16 score in favor of the Bearcats.
Cincinnati got the ball to start the third quarter and ended a 4:58 drive with a 27 yard field goal, getting on the board first in the second half. Sean Renfree ended Duke’s next possession with an interception thrown in the arms of UC’s Arryn Chenault, who returned the ball 21 yards to the Cincinnati 40 yard line. The Bearcats took advantage of another Blue Devil turnover as George Winn took the ball in for a 46 yard touchdown blast from scrimmage.
The game was quickly changing hands. What was once an all Blue Devil game was now a Cincinnati blowout in the middle of the third quarter. Duke was not ready to lie down, though, and got the last points of the quarter with a Conner Vernon 10 yard touchdown reception followed by an Issac Blakeney two point conversion, bringing the score to 27-24 heading into the fourth.
The fourth quarter action summed up the rest of the game, as both teams stayed neck in the shootout. With 5:17 left in the game, Duke and Cincinnati were all tied up 34-34. When the Blue Devils took the field, it looked like they were in it to win it when Josh Snead was forced to fumble by Brandon Mills. Bearcat John Williams recovered the fumble on the Cincinnati five yard line.
Brendon Kay took advantage of the opportunity and tossed a long ball for 83 yards to Travis Kelce for a Bearcat touchdown, breaking the tie. In the Blue Devils’ final possession of the game, Sean Renfree threw another interception to Cincinnati’s Nick Temple who returned the ball for a 55 yard touchdown, putting Duke away with 30 seconds left in regulation.
Brendon Kay was named the Belk Bowl MVP after completing 17 of his 25 passes for 332 yards and four interceptions. The fifth year senior also added 76 rushing yards on 10 carries. George Winn ran for 130 yards and a touchdown on 16 carries. Travis Kelce led the receivers with five receptions for 123 yards and one touchdown. His performance was followed by Anthony McClung, who put up 110 yards and a score on three receptions.
Turnovers were the name of the game as Cincinnati forced Duke into two Renfree interceptions and two fumbles. In the end, that is what won the game for the Bearcats and brought the teams chaotic last month to an end. UC can now look forward to a brighter, steadier future under new head coach Tommy Tuberville.