Cincinnati 48, Duke 34: Bearcats Feed off Blue Devil Turnovers to Seal Belk Bowl Victory


How does another 10-win season sound? How about the 5th 10-win season in the last 6 years? How about joining the ranks of Alabama, Oregon, and Oklahoma as the only college football programs to accomplish that feat?

You know it sounds phenomenal.

That’s what the Cincinnati Bearcats did this evening knocking off the Duke Blue Devils 48 – 34 in the Belk Bowl. It was ugly at times and like many games this year UC didn’t play a full 60 minutes but they were explosive enough and made enough big plays to turn this game in their favor.

The first half was a tale of two teams. In the first quarter Duke did just about everything it wanted to with a Bearcats team that looked like it had just rolled out of bed. The Blue Devils methodically marched down the field on their opening drive for a touchdown and even blocked a punt for a score as well. Before Cincinnati knew what hit them they were down 16 – 0.

But the Bearcats started to compose themselves after a made field goal from Tony Miliano to cut the Blue Devils lead to 13 late in the first quarter. The second quarter was all Cincinnati as Brendon Kay hit Anthony McClung on a beautiful pass to cut the Duke lead again and Ralph David Abernathy on a wheel route to propel the Bearcats into the lead. Momentum was firmly entrenched on UC’s sidelines.

This continued into the second half as Cincinnati ballooned their lead to 11 after a vintage George Winn three-yards-and-a-cloud of dust run. With the way the Bearcats had dominated the game for the better part of the last quarter and a half, Duke seemed all but defeated. But to their credit the Dave Cutcliffe-led Blue Devils stuck to their game (high-flying offense) and battled their way back into the game eventually tying it up at 34 halfway through the fourth quarter on a long Ross Martin field goal.

At that point momentum once again swung in the way of Duke and especially so after the defense forced Cincinnati into a three and out. The Blue Devils looked like they would be able to drive the field to win the game on their final possession. And on second and goal on the Cincinnati 5-yard line the Bearcats looked all but finished. As Duke started working the clock UC needed a miracle to even give the offense an opportunity to answer what seemed to be a sure Blue Devil score.

Believe it or not, the Bearcats got one in the name of Brandon Mills.

On said second and goal play, Duke wisely kept the ball on the ground but Mills, ever the sparkplug, poked the ball away on the Cincinnati 4 yard line. The Bearcats recovered with about a minute and a half to go in the game. That was all UC needed. Four plays later Brendon Kay took advantage of the turnover by hitting Travis Kelce with an 83-yard pass up the seam for a touchdown. It was a score that capped an outstanding career for the Cincinnati tight end.

Seconds later with the Blue Devils pressured to score a touchdown senior Maalik Bomar put a stamp on his own career with an Earth-shaking hit on Sean Renfree. The hit forced the Duke quarterback to throw up a floater that Nick Temple intercepted and subsequently ran back for a touchdown. It sealed the win for the Bearcats.

And all this done with a coaching staff half-full with just Steve Stripling, Roy Manning, Dave Johnson, Shannon Morrison, and T.J. Weist as the only ones remaining for the Belk Bowl. That’s what is most impressive to me and why the bowl win tonight was more gratifying than the others. The Cincinnati Bearcats put up 48 points with a depleted staff but a team with maturity flowing from the seniors to the freshman and a never-say-die attitude.

It was a team that was easy to root for and I couldn’t be prouder of them tonight.

Go Bearcats.