The University of Cincinnati football team defeated the University of Pittsburgh Panthers 34-10, winning the final game the two squads will play as members of the Big East Conference.
UC’s 24 point win — its largest ever against Pitt — will keep the Paddlewheel Trophy in Cincinnati for the foreseeable future.
The blowout victory started the season off the right way, said UC head coach Butch Jones,
“Anytime you open up the season with a victory — especially a Big East victory — is big,” he said. “It’s a rivalry game, a trophy game so obviously that’s great.”
Pittsburgh’s first possession resulted in a quick three-and-out. Only a student-section induced false start and timeout kept Pitt’s offense on the field. UC’s students accounted for more than 8,000 of the 33,562 in attendance.
The Bearcats wasted no time capitalizing on the early momentum, when junior tailback George Winn ran 58 yards untouched to the end zone on the team’s first offensive play from scrimmage. After a Tony Miliano extra point, the bearcats led 7-0 with 13 minutes remaining in the first quarter.
Less than two minutes later senior defensive end Walter Stewart rushed off the right side of the line to force Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri into his first fumble of the season. UC’s Camaron Beard recovered it and the Bearcat’s took over inside Pitt’s 40-yard line.
Four plays later, UC quarterback Munchie Legaux connected with Ralph David Abernathy IV on the left sideline and the sophomore speedster quickly made it two touchdowns in five offensive plays for the Bearcats.
Pitt crossed the 50-yard line just once in the first quarter, only to be halted by a Nick Temple sack on third down at UC’s 37-yard line.
The ensuing punt by Pitt junior Matt Yoklic pinned UC on its one-yard line. A 27-yard completion from Legaux to Travis Kelce, followed by 13 yards rushing from Abernathy IV had UC moving once again, but the drive stalled and the two teams traded punts for the remainder of the quarter.
Pitt’s rushing attack began to grab a foothold during the early stages of the second quarter, but an untimely unsportsmanlike conduct penalty derailed an otherwise promising drive.
Penalties derailed the Panthers on its next drive as well. A holding call nullified a Ray Graham touchdown and UC linebacker Greg Blair intercepted a pass from Pitt quarterback Tino Sunseri with 5 minutes and 49 seconds remaining in the half.
For Blair, the younger brother of former Pitt basketball standout DeJuan Blair, Thursday’s game provided an opportunity to get some revenge on his conference rivals.
“It was just a dream come true for me,” Blair said. “It’s crazy just how much bragging rights I’ve got now because I live right by Pitt’s campus, so I run into the guys all the time and for my brother too because I know deep down he wanted it to be a little closer game than it was.”
UC reached a first and goal on the Pittsburgh 10-yard line following Blair’s interception, but two sacks forced UC to settle for a 39-yard Miliano field goal. UC lead 17-0 with 2 minutes and 51 seconds left in the half.
Pitt advanced to Cincinnati’s one-yard line with four seconds remaining, but Sunseri’s attempt to throw the ball away left no time on the clock for a field goal attempt. The half ended with UC leading 17-0.
A 50-yard run by Graham put Pitt into scoring position again on the Panther’s first drive of the half, but a 7-yard tackle for a loss by UC defensive end Walter Stewart forced Pitt to settle for a field goal and made the score 17-3.
Legaux broke free for a 77-yard run — the longest UC rush since Isaiah Pead’s 80-yard run against Miami University in 2009 — to start the next UC drive. The run set up Winn’s second score of the game, which pushed UC’s lead to 24-3.
Pitt entered field goal range once again following the UC touchdown, only to be forced out by John Williams’ second sack of the game. Williams, a senior transfer from Central Michigan University, played for Jones at CMU before he took the head coaching job at UC.
The ensuing Bearcat drive began at the one yard line, but a 42-yard completion from Legaux to senior wide receiver Kembrell Tompkins, coupled with yet another unsportsmanlike conduct penalty against Pitt, positioned UC for its fourth touchdown.
Legaux hooked up with Abernathy IV — this time from 12 yards out — for their second scoring strike of the night to give UC a 31-3 lead with 13 minutes and 54 seconds remaining in the game.
The two squads traded punts for nearly 10 minutes before Miliano – who looked much improved in his first outing as a sophomore – nailed a 46-yard field goal, to push the Bearcats’ lead to 34-3.
Pittsburgh added a late touchdown to improve the score line, but Cincinnati dominated throughout the final installment of the River City Rivalry, ending with a 34-10 UC victory.
Legaux finished as UC’s leading rusher with 117 yards to go along with 205 yards passing and two touchdowns.
“I think he managed the offense really well,” Jones said. “He was poised, calm and collected, and that is what we have come to expect from our quarterbacks. This was his first game as a full-time starter, and I thought he did well.”
UC's defense finished with six sacks on the night, which keyed Cincinnati’s victory, Jones said.
“The by-product of playing great pass defense is a great pass rush and we may not have the most dynamic one or two individuals, but I think as a group, we always talk about the power of the unit in our program by position and I thought our kids up front did a great job and we challenged them all week,” he said.
The Bearcats take the field again Saturday against Delaware State University at Nippert Stadium.