The University of Cincinnati football team claimed its 10th, and final, win of 2012 in dramatic fashion, beating Duke University in the Belk Bowl, 48-34.
After starting out slow, the Bearcats finished the game scoring two touchdowns expeditiously in the game's final minute.
With Duke just 5 yards away from a go-ahead touchdown and less than two minutes remaining in the game, UC senior defensive end Brandon Mills forced Josh Snead into Duke’s second red-zone fumble of the game, which John Williams recovered at the Bearcats’ 5-yard line.
Four plays later, UC quarterback Brendan Kay connected with Travis Kelce on an 81-yard touchdown pass to give UC a 41-34 lead with 44 seconds remaining in the game.
Duke reached the UC 40-yard line on the following drive, before UC linebacker Maalik Bomar blindsided Duke quarterback Sean Renfree and deflected his pass into the hands of Nick Temple, who returned the interception 55 yards for a touchdown.
Temple’s interception return left only 14 seconds on the clock for Duke, effectively capping UC’s second bowl victory in as many years.
“This was a phenomenal game, momentum swing after momentum swing,” UC quarterback Brendon Kay said. “It shows the resiliency that this team has. We’ve been through a lot this last month and this season, this is the only way the seniors could go out.”
Duke wasted no time getting on the scoreboard in its first bowl appearance since 1997, as backup quarterback Brandon Connette strolled into the end zone untouched from 5 yards out. The Blue Devils’ opening possession spanned just 3 minutes and 12 seconds.
Blue Devils kicker Ross Martin added a field goal on the ensuing drive to push Duke’s lead to 9-0.
Things quickly worsened for UC on its next possession, when Duke defensive back Tony Foster blocked Pat O’Donnell’s punt and recovered the loose ball in the end zone for a touchdown.
Duke’s early 16-0 lead was the most UC had trailed by in a game all season.
“[The start] wasn’t ideal to say the least,” Kay said. “We knew we just had to keep plugging away. We’ve put in months of work, and we knew we could score points.”
UC sophomore kicker Tony Miliano put the Bearcats on the board for the first time with a 45-yard field goal with just under two minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Cincinnati’s leading tackler Greg Blair made the play of the game on Duke’s following drive, forcing and recovering a fumble just inches away from the UC goal line. Blair jarred the ball loose from Duke running back Jela Duncan to prevent the Blue Devils from taking a three-possession lead.
UC interim head coach Steve Stripling attributed UC’s clutch red-zone fumble recoveries to an increased focus on the turnovers near the end zone.
“That’s really been the M.O [Modus Operandi] of our defense this year,” Stripling said. “We put a special emphasis on the red zone and we’ve had that tendency all year to be able to create turnovers in the red zone.”
UC quarterback Brendon Kay threw touchdown passes of 25 and 41 yards to Anthony McClung and Ralph David Abernathy IV, respectively, on back-to-back possessions to end the second quarter, giving the Bearcats a 17-16 lead at the half.
The Bearcats advanced to the Duke one-yard line on the opening drive of the second half, but settled for a 27-yard Miliano field goal after an untimely false start penalty.
Arryan Chenault intercepted Renfree on Duke’s next drive and UC running back George Winn pushed UC’s lead to 11, 27-16, two plays later with 46 yard touchdown run.
Just as Cincinnati did in the first half, Duke answered with back-to-back scoring drives to regain the lead.
Renfree, who finished with a Belk Bowl record 358 yards passing, threw a 10-yard touchdown to Conner Vernon and Connette threw a two- yard touchdown pass to David Reeves on the following drive to give Duke a 31-27 lead with 12 minutes and 45 seconds remaining in the game.
UC answered with a 77-yard scoring drive of its own. Kay connected on a 25-yard touchdown pass to Chris Moore, as UC snatched the lead back, 34-31.
Martin pulled Duke even with 52-yard field goal with 7 minutes 24seconds left to play, setting the stage for the game’s dramatic ending.
Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory praised UC, which overcame the exodus of nearly its entire coaching, for bringing pride to the entire city of Cincinnati.
“On behalf of Cincinnati and Bearcats fans everywhere, I want to congratulate the Bearcats Football Team on an outstanding season and a thrilling win,” Mallory said in a statement. “Tonight, they showed true Cincinnati spirit, playing with determination and focus to overcome obstacles and persevere in the end. They have made us all proud.”
Kay, who was named the 2012 Belk bowl MVP, finished with 332 yards passing and four touchdowns and completed 17-25 pass attempts. Both Kelce and McClung racked up more than 100 yards receiving, with 123 and 110 yards respectively.
Winn closed out his UC career with 135 yards rushing on 16 carries.
UC finishes the 2012 season 10-3, making the Bearcats one of only 5 schools in the country with five 10-win seasons in the past six years.
The University of Cincinnati claimed its fifth 10-win season in the last six years, beating Duke University 48-34 in the Belk Bowl in Charlotte, N.C.