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Cincinnati Defeats East Carolina, 19-16; Bearcats Finish Regular Season at 7-5

Shaq Washington's school-record 15 receptions key Cincinnati's hard-fought win on the road against the East Carolina Pirates.

James Guillory-USA TODAY Sports

The game wasn't exactly pretty, but it was a good win for a Cincinnati team reeling from their blowout loss to South Florida only a week ago. In what figured to be yet another offensive showcase, the Cincinnati defense settled in and limited East Carolina to only 16 points. Meanwhile the Cincinnati offense, led by Shaq Washington's school-record 15 receptions for 124 yards and a touchdown, played within themselves and only turned the ball over in their 19-16 win over the Pirates.

We already knew East Carolina's offense would pose some threat to Cincinnati's young defense, but the start of the game felt particularly unnerving for Bearcats fans. Pirates quarterback Blake Kemp was sharp in the early-going, picking apart the Cincinnati defense. To Cincinnati's credit, the Bearcats avoided the big-play and buckled down in the red zone, forcing East Carolina to settle for a 20-yard field goal to open the scoring.

Kemp continued to play with confidence, using the Pirates next possession to drive East Carolina 94 yards in 11 plays. Kemp capped the drive off with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Davon Grayson, giving the Pirates an early 10-0 lead.

Cincinnati's offense, on the other hand, struggled early. The offense's first drive was a three-and-out and the Bearcats didn't really get anything going until a 13-play, 90-yard touchdown drive that ended in an eight-yard touchdown pass from Gunner Kiel to Washington. The Andrew Gantz extra point attempt was missed.

Although both offenses found a bit of a rhythm early, both defenses played well to close out the first half. East Carolina would only accumulate 75 more yards in three drives to close out the half. Cincinnati had a promising 14-play, 71-yard drive end in a Kiel interception, picked off in the end zone. Cincinnati entered halftime trailing 6-10.

The Bearcats took the opening second half drive 76 yards in 16 plays and used up half the third quarter clock (7:32), wasting no time getting on the board. Keyed by the three-headed monster of Hosey Williams, Tion Green and Mike Boone, the Bearcats made their presence felt in the ground game, driving down the field. Boone finished the drive with a one-yard touchdown run to give Cincinnati a 13-10 lead.

Cincinnati would use their next offensive drive to eat up even more clock. Their 12-play, 53-yard drive took 4:44 off the clock and ended in a 50-yard Gantz field goal to put the Bearcats up, 16-10.

East Carolina wouldn't go away though, taking their own trek down the field to put up six points. Their 15-play, 78-yard drive was keyed by Kemp's play, but the drive ended in a touchdown pass from backup quarterback James Summers to Bryce Williams from two-yards out. However, an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty on Summers would push the Pirates back for their extra point, which was subsequently missed, leaving the score a 16-16 tie midway through the fourth quarter.

Riding the run game, Cincinnati took the resulting drive 48 yards, setting up a 44-yard field goal for Gantz with the opportunity to take the lead, but the field goal was missed, giving the ball back to East Carolina, still tied.

The Pirates couldn't do anything with the ball, forced into a three-and-out by the Cincinnati defense, setting the Cincinnati offense with an opportunity to take the lead in the closing minutes.

Kiel and company drove down the field, setting up Gantz for a 42-yard field goal in the closing seconds. Gantz slid the kick inside the far upright, giving the Bearcats the 19-16 win over East Carolina.

The Cincinnati offense did what they needed to do, even if the scoring output wasn't what we have become accustomed to seeing. Kiel threw for 270 yards and one touchdown with only one interception. The run game was a key part of the Cincinnati attack with 157 yards as a team, led by Williams' 69, and one touchdown by Boone. Washington obviously led the Cincinnati receiving core with his school-record 15 catches for 124 yards and a touchdown.

Cincinnati finishes the regular season at 7-5. We will wait and see where the Bearcats with play this bowl season.