There’s nothing like a top 25 matchup in college football. It was Championship Saturday! The Biggest game in AAC and the University of Cincinnati history took place in Cincinnati, Ohio. Two future B12 opponents did battle for the American Athletic Conference championship. For Cincinnati, it was a win; and the playoffs await. The Bearcats sought to become the first non-Power-5 team in the College Football Playoff history to play for the National Championship. It was rocking in Nippert Stadium in front of the biggest crowds ever. The Bearcats did not disappoint. Your American Athletic Champions are the University of Cincinnati Bearcats via a 35-20 win against the Houston Cougars.
The first quarter was explosive, both teams streaking quickly on offense. It was a tale of two different styles. Houston’s drives were long with a good mix of pass and run. Cincinnati had quick streaks with a huge pass play and long rushing touchdowns. Each team scored twice in the opening quarter. Houston got the game started with a 3-minute drive resulting in a field goal. In return, Desmond Ridder threw a streak to Tyler Scott on a seam route for the lead. Houston’s second drive was just over 5 minutes for 74 yards. Quarterback Clayton Tune and Nathaniel Dell connected on a 16 yard TD pass. The very next play Jerome Ford broke for a 79-yard run.
The second quarter was all about defense. Houston scored 3 points to open the quarter; that came at the end of a first-quarter drive. Outside of that, all drives ended in punts. Cincinnati went three and out twice. Houston managed only a couple of first downs in the quarter. Cincinnati’s only drive of substance resulted in a missed field goal. The score at halftime was 14-13.
The third quarter was all about the Bearcats as they began to pull away. A Desmond Ridder 8 yard pass to Leonard Taylor for the touchdown started the third quarter avalanche. On defense, the second half started with Joel Dublanko getting an interception. Another quick score of the turnover made it a two-position game. Houston had negative six yards of total offense.
“That’s what we’re capable of,” Fickell told ESPN after the game about the team’s third-quarter performance. “It doesn’t always happen but when things start rolling, the defense and the offense are playing complementary football. It’s tough to stop.”
UC brought the heat on Clayton Tune. The Bearcats had three sacks and multiple QB pressures throughout the quarter. Two passing touchdowns and a rush TD by Jerome Ford broke the game open. In the 4th quarter, there was almost no offense from UC, as they tried to run down the clock. Houston had 100 yards passing and a touchdown, but three scores down were too much to overcome. UC defense had 8 sacks overall.
The home crowd at Nippert Stadium started to buzz even before kickoff after Baylor beat Oklahoma State in the Big 12 Championship Game. The loss of the No. 5 team pushed them out of the playoff picture and further secured Cincinnati’s spot. Now with a convincing win against a ranked opponent and a head-to-head win against Notre Dame, the pieces have fallen in place for a non Power Five school to make the playoff for the first time. Jerome Ford was named the most outstanding player. He had 187 yards and two touchdowns. Congratulations to the Bearcats. They take this momentum into the Big 12 as they leave the AAC.