GREENVILLE, NORTH CAROLINA — Desmond Ridder cashed in two touchdown passes, ECU was held to 13 points, and the Cincinnati Bearcats improved to 12-0 ahead of conference championship week.
The Bearcats (12-0, 8-0 American Athletic Conference) kept Holton Ahlers and the Pirates’ offense bottled up, limiting the 19th-ranked quarterback in FBS Passing Yards to his second lowest CMP% (50%) of the season. Ahlers finished the day with 19 passes on 38 throws for 228 yards and one score.
“You see why they’re in contention for a national championship,” East Carolina coach Mike Houston said when regarding Cincinnati. “I thought our kids played really, really hard. I thought they did many things well. … “It also shows the level of defense that Cincinnati had. We thought we would be able to run it better, but we couldn’t.”
Cincinnati scored 21 of its 35 points in the second quarter after being held scoreless throughout 17 minutes of play. The sequence began when their veteran quarterback found Leonard Taylor for a lob down the ECU sideline for a 44-yard gain and score. Ridder tallied 17 completions on 28 throws for 301 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions, while Taylor managed only one other catch on Friday for a yardage gain of eight.
After another stop by the defense, the Bearcats garnered field position past their own 40. Ridder found his target Alec Pierce for 53 yards, and Cincinnati capitalized two plays later on a touchdown rush by Jerome Ford. Ford — No. 7 in total rush TD’s — registered his 16th score of the year along with 20 carries for 85 yards.
“Put yourselves in position to play for championships, a lot of other things can happen,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said.
The offense remained on the attack the following drive through a seven-play, 88-yard sequence that was capped off after another large gain from Pierce. Friday’s leading wide receiver, who registered eight receptions for 136 yards and a TD, leaped over his defender for a spectacle of a catch that very well could’ve landed in the hands of the opposing defense.
Halftime: Cincinnati 21, ECU 3
ECU started to find its defensive groove in the first half — the Pirates limited UC to a single offensive touchdown — but their efforts proved little to late.
Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner produced a highlight-worthy 60-yard touchdown run after a blocked 35-yard field goal set the the top cornerback up in Big Sky Country. Gardner, who has worked his way up to the first round of the NFL Draft according to mock picks by experts, remains spotless in allowed touchdowns as a corner.
“I was just making plays as they came,” Gardner said. “I wasn’t trying to be a superhero.”
Aside from another field goal block Cincinnati, the Bearcats defense allowed a single touchdown across four quarters of play. It wasn’t until Jsi Hatfield (with under ten minutes to go in regulation) reeled in a 12-yard pass from Ahlers to find the back of the end-zone for the first time.
Final Score: Cincinnati 35, East Carolina 13
Overview and Bearcat Playoff Scenarios
With their win on Friday, Cincinnati should expect to remain slotted at the No. 4 spot in next week’s edition of the College Football Playoff Rankings. The Bearcats trail Georgia (No. 1), Ohio State (No. 2), and Alabama (No. 3) ahead of a much anticipated conference championship weekend next Saturday.
The main question surrounding the rankings continues to be whether a 12-1 Big 12 champion — Oklahoma or Oklahoma State — would jump UC on Selection Sunday. OSU owns a brutal loss to Iowa State, but the Cowboys have a victory over 8th ranked Baylor among the possibility of two more top ten wins in the following weeks. Their rival sits in a similar situation with a bad defeat and the possibility of multiple strong wins later down the stretch.
Scenarios that would all but guarantee a Bearcat playoff birth include a second loss in conference championship week from Alabama, the Big Ten East winner, or the victor of Saturday’s Bedlam (Oklahoma vs. Oklahoma State) matchup.
Cincinnati Key Stat Leaders
Passing: QB Desmond Ridder, 17-28, 301 yards and two touchdowns
Rushing: RB Jerome Ford, 20 carries, 85 yards and one touchdown
Receiving: WR Alec Pierce, eight receptions, 136 yards and one touchdown
Tackling: LB Joel Dublanko, ten total tackles, five solo tackles
East Carolina Key Stat Leaders
Passing: QB Holton Ahlers, 19-38, 228 yards and one touchdown
Rushing: RB Keaton Mitchell, 17 carries, 55 yards
Receiving: WR Tyler Snead, six receptions, 91 yards
Tackling: LB Aaron Ramseur, eight total tackles, four solo tackles
Full Remaining Cincinnati Schedule:
AAC Championship Game vs. Houston, Saturday, December 4
Bowl Game vs. TBD