Bearcats show claws WVU falls, 24-21
West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown runs past Cincinnati defensive lineman Dan Giordano for a first-quarter touchdown last night in Cincinnati.
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CINCINNATI -- If you line up every college football team in the country, play them off head-to-head in the truest measure, in tournament-style fashion, is Cincinnati the fifth best?
That much is up for debate.
So, too, is whether Bearcats running back Isaiah Pead, who otherwise had a masterful game last night with 175 yards, scored what turned out to be a gigantic second-quarter touchdown -- one that will be debated by Mountaineers fans for generations -- in front of the largest crowd in Nippert Stadium history.
This much is not up for debate: No matter how you slice it, no matter what arguments can be made about how really good this No. 5 Cincinnati team is or if that Pead touchdown was, well, a touchdown, when the Bearcats (10-0, 6-0) walked out of their old-fashioned, on-campus stadium, they had earned a 24-21 victory against West Virginia (7-3, 3-2) and dashed the last hopes the Mountaineers had of capturing the Big East Conference title.
West Virginia's final two games -- against Pitt in two weeks and Rutgers to end the season -- will be played largely to see which bowl the squad goes to and pride.
"We came out on the short end," West Virginia coach Bill Stewart said. "This is going to be one that is going to stay with me a long, long time. ... We played the fifth-ranked team in the country, right off their feet."
And the game's most consequential play? Some will say it went to Cincinnati by a nose.
With West Virginia leading, 14-7, with just over five minutes left before halftime, Pead stretched the football near or over the goal line, West Virginia safety Robert Sands knocked it free, and nose tackle Chris Neild jumped on it on the 1. It all went for not.
After the officials on the field -- who had signaled a fumble and a West Virginia recovery -- deferred to the replay official in the booth, the call was overturned and Pead was awarded a 2-yard touchdown to tie the score at 14-14, serving as a huge momentum swing.
After the game, Stewart wanted nothing to do with fielding questions about the sequence.
"They're professional men," he said. "They called it the way they saw it."
Sands saw it -- and he had plenty to say.
"They say [Pead] crossed the line, I didn't see him cross any line," Sands said. "But, that ball definitely was out."
Who knows, maybe it was and maybe it wasn't, but now West Virginia is out of any Bowl Championship Series consideration.
That play was enormous, but it was not the lone component as to why the game ended the way the Mountaineers didn't envision.
In the first 5:04, Cincinnati turned around a West Virginia three-and-out into a touchdown, driving 73 yards in nine plays to take a 7-0 lead.
And quarterback Tony Pike, playing for the first time since an injury to his non-throwing arm a month ago against South Florida, made a difference right away, tossing a touchdown on his first pass when he hit Armon Binns across the middle of the end zone for a 10-yard score.
Pike was used last night exclusively deep in West Virginia territory. He went 2 for 4 with two touchdown passes while Zach Collaros got his fourth start and stayed unbeaten, going 17 for 24 for 205 yards.
Later in the first quarter, after Pike's first touchdown pass, West Virginia quarterback Jarrett Brown bulled in from 8 yards to tie the score at 7-7.
That drive, because of Cincinnati's rapid-fire way of operating, was huge, as it showed the Bearcats that West Virginia was not going to lie down after falling behind early.
And the Mountaineers went one better, taking a 14-7 lead early in the second quarter when fullback Ryan Clarke, who had 60 yards on five carries, broke through the line and kept on going, scoring from 37 yards. After that drive came the controversial Pead touchdown, and that is the way it went into halftime, at 14-14.
Cincinnati came out of halftime and mixed it up on their first drive of the second half to take a 21-14 advantage. Pead picked up 25 yards rushing as he carried the ball on the first four plays. Collaros then completed three consecutive passes to get his team to the 6, and Pike needled a quick-hitter to D.J. Woods on a quick post route to put Cincinnati ahead, 21-14.
Jake Rogers' 38-yard field goal with 2:08 left made it insurmountable, giving the Bearcats a 24-14 lead. Brown hit Bradley Starks with a 3-yard touchdown with 39 seconds left to narrow the outcome.
"We took the fifth-ranked team in the country to 24-21," Stewart said. "That's not a moral victory, that's a good college football game."
First Published November 14, 2009 12:16 am