|Posted on December 4, 2021 at 7:30 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
There has arguably been no more crucial game in Cincinnati Bearcats' football history than today.
The team is undefeated at 12-0, including a double-digit road victory over then 9th-ranked Notre Dame Fighting Irish in South Bend (24-13).
They are currently ranked fourth in the most recent College Football Playoff polls, making them the final team that would advance to the nation's coveted playoff bracket.
Both teams behind the Bearcats, the Oklahoma State Cowboys (Big 12) and Notre Dame Fighting Irish (Independent), have arguadly accidentally aided Cincinnati, with 5th-ranked Oklahoma State now with two losses after losing in the Big 12 Championship game earlier today to the Baylor Bears and 6th-ranked Notre Dame having a head-to-head loss to Cincinnati.
Therefore, it makes clear sense that all the Bearcats have to do is win in this 2021 American Athletic Conference Championship.
Houston (11-1, 8-0 in AAC) looked strong to open as junior quarterback Clayton Tune and the Houston offense moved downfield relatively easily on the opening drive of the game, but graduate defensive tackle Curtis Brooks and senior defensive end Jabari Taylor would put a snag in the Cougars' plans when they sacked Tune for a six-yard loss to move the Cougars back to the Bearcats' 20-yard line. Houston would end their first drive of the game with a 37-yard field goal by senior kicker Dalton Witherspoon to get something on the board to start the contest.
Senior quarter Desmond Ridder and CIncinnati would respond with a score of their own, getting out ahead of Houston by a score of 7-3 when Ridder found sophomore wide receiver Tyler Scott for a 25-yard touchdown on their opening drive.
Tune and Ridder came into this match-up almost the same statistically, Tune with 3,013 passing yards and Ridder with 3,000, Tune with 26 passing touchdowns and Ridder with 27, both with eight intercepions, and each at or above 66% completion percentage, Tune at 68.7% and Ridder at 66%.
Houston would continue to impress early when they scored on their second drive of the game as well, this time in the end zone when Tune led the offense once again into Cincinnati's redzone, finding sophomore wide receiver Nathaniel Dell this time for a 16-yard score to move the Cougars back ahead, 10-3, with 4:23 left in the first quarter.
The Bearcats would respond for a second time when junior running back Jerome Ford took a hand-off from Ridder to the house from 79 yards away, elevating Cincinnati to a 14-10 lead less than 23 seconds after Houston scored.
Houston would take their third drive of the game from the end of the first quarter to the beginning of tbe second, scoring on this possession as well to make it three-straight to start the match-up when Witherspoon connected from 46 yards away to bring the Cougars' deficit to one, 14-13, at the 11:40 mark of the second quarter.
Two rushes by Ford inside the Houston 10-yard line would not end in a score for Cincinnati, so the Bearcats relied on freshman kicker Christian Lowery from 23 yards away. Lowery would miss, giving the Cougars the ball back on their own 10, and marking the first time a team did not score on their possession in this game with the first five possessions all leading to scores here in Cincinnati, Ohio, the Cougars with three and the Bearcats with two.
Houston would follow with a punt after running five plays, having gtheir first possession without a score as well.
Junior defensive tackle Logan Hall, who came into this match-up with five sacks to lead the Cougars, took down Ridder for a 10-yard loss, forcing the Bearcats to punt from their own two-yard line.
Ahmad Gardner, a junior cornerback for Cincinnati, would come off the edge on Houston's next drive to sack Tune who was left out in the open for the taking, resulting in a nine-yard loss, sending Houston back to their own 47-yard line.
The Cougars and Bearcats would each punt again before the end of the first half, meaning that the first half which began with five scores on all five opening possessions would conclude with a missed field goal by Cincinnati and four punts, two by each team, keeping it 14-13 Cincinnati at the break.
Cincinnati, after going quiet on their last three drives of the first half, would score on their opening drive of the second half, when Ridder found senior tight end Leonard Taylor for an eight-yard pass play that rose the Bearcats out to a 21-13 lead wtih 12:02 remaining in the third quarter.
Houston's first drive of the second half would be far different, with Tune throwing his first interception of the game, and ninth this season in 13 total games, on their very first play of the drive. Graduate linebacker Joel Dublanko intercepted the ball and returned it nine yards to just outside the Cougars' redzone, at their 23-yard line.
Just two plays into their second drive of the second half, Ridder aired out again, this time finding senior wide receiver Alec Pierce, who reeled the ball in in the end zone for a 21-yard score to advance the Bearcats ahead by double-digits for the first time in this game, 28-13, less than one minute since their last score (11:04 mark).
Ford would take off on the Bearcats' third possession of the second half, going 42 yards to the house, this time scoring from the left side; his 79-yard touchdown run in the first half came from running to the right side of the field. In both of these scoring plays, Ford was simply faster than anything the Cougars' threw at him. With 7:38 left in the third quarter, Cincinnati led 35-13.
At the time of his score, Ford was averaging 13.9 yards per carry, rushing for 153 yards on 11 carries, with two touchdowns.
Confusion on a 3rd-&-9 snap would lead to Houston punting for the second time in a row, giving Cincinnati the ball inside six minutes remaining in the third quarter.
Ford would carry the call on 4th-&-1 on the following Cincinnati possession, but would be stopped and Houston would take over on their own 45-yard line. However, the Cougars' offense would not capitalize, punting the ball away for the third-straight drive to open the second half.
After scoring on their three drives of the third quarter, the Bearcats would take their fifth drive into the fourth quarter and punt the ball away for the first time in the second half, following their drive where Ford failed to get the first down on 4th-&-1.
Houston would take what was once looked at as a drive where they fumbled and Cincinnati returned the ball for a touchdown (which was overturned after review) and turned it into a 13-play scoring drive, with Tune finding senior wide receiver Jake Herslow for a seven-yard score to make it 35-20 Cincinnati with 6:06 to play.
Senior defensive end Myjai Sanders and senior defensive tackle Marcus Brown put the exclamation point on the game, sacking Tune on 4th-&-6.
Cougars' senior running back Chandler Smith would get gobbled up to end the contest 35-20 Bearcats.
Now it is up to the College Football Playoff Committee to do the right thing...