Alex Frank | Sports Director
There were so many elements to the Bearcats victory Monday in the Military Bowl presented by Northrop Grumman over the Virginia Tech Hokies that made it so thrilling.
The obvious one was what senior quarterback Hayden Moore did in place of injured redshirt-freshman Desmond Ridder, who left with what appeared to be a right ankle injury in the first quarter.
For Moore to come in and lead the Bearcats to their 11th win of the season in the final game of his career at UC, it’s the right way for him to go out.
After being the leader through back-to-back 4-8 seasons and being replaced by Ridder in the season opener at UCLA, it would have been easy for him to do anything including feeling sorry for himself, disengaging himself from the team, etc.
Instead, just the opposite happened.
“To see his excitement, see his smile- when he came out and did what he did, I could tell he was ready,” senior center Garrett Campbell said. “It’s a testament to how committed he’s stayed this entire season… Hayden prepares week to week like he’s going to play, and that’s one of our strengths.”
Moore went 11/25 passing with 120 yards while also rushing nine times for 64 yards and a touchdown in a driving rain storm at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium in Annapolis, Maryland.
“I knew this opportunity was coming at some point this year. I always had to be ready,” Moore said. “When I saw (Desmond go down), I didn’t blink an eye. I just went and grabbed my helmet, and as I was walking to the huddle, everybody was telling me I got this. That really encouraged me.”
On the final drive, though, it was another element that propelled the Bearcats to victory; the truck that is sophomore running back Michael Warren II.
With the weather conditions, this game was made for the Toledo, Ohio native and former Mr. Football for the Buckeye State.
Warren rushed for a Bearcats bowl record 166 yards and two touchdowns, including the game-winning eight-yard rush with 1:29 left in the fourth quarter.
“Everything was just clicking at the end of the game and the O-line did a great job,” Warren said. “Especially at the end when you keep wearing the other team down.”
The Bearcats wore down the Hokies defense by running the ball on all five plays on the game-winning drive.
Warren’s toughness was also on full display when he re-entered the game after taking a thunderous hit on the Bearcats first drive of the third quarter.
Speaking of thunderous, the freak that is sophomore safety James Wiggins was forced to sit out the first half after being ejected in the regular-season finale.
But games aren’t always won in the first half, and Wiggins would have the final word in the final minute of the Military Bowl.
After sealing two wins in the regular season with interceptions, it was only fitting that the Miami, Florida native sealed the Bearcats bowl win with an interception of Hokies redshirt-junior quarterback Ryan Willis.
“He’s one of our best players,” Fickell said. “He makes others around him better just because of the way he’s worked and where he’s come from one year to the next. I think people feed off of that.”
After only recording a single tackle in 10 games as a freshman of 2017, Wiggins quickly became a notable part of the Bearcats defense this year and was nationally recognized by national college football writer Bruce Feldman, as he named Wiggins to his annual “Freaks List” in the preseason.
His interception at the one-yard line in the final minute against Ohio and his overtime interception return for a touchdown at SMU were two highlights in a year where he recorded 54 tackles and four interceptions and was named second team All-AAC.
Warren’s hard-nosed running, Wiggins showing his knack for being the Bearcats version of Mariano Rivera and Moore taking advantage of an opportunity given to him were all the elements that made this victory so thrilling for the Bearcats, on a day where the elements weren’t ideal for fans in attendance.
A game that featured a Military Bowl record eight lead changes and the Bearcats having their starting quarterback and senior wide receiver knocked out with injuries saw Cincinnati find a way to win their first bowl game since 2012 and set the stage for a 2019 season filled with high and exciting expectations.