Alex Frank | Sports Director
Cincinnati sports teams never make it easy for their fans, and Saturday was no different as the University of Cincinnati Bearcats football team staged a dramatic, come-from-behind victory over the Ohio University Bobcats.
After Cincinnati roared back from a 24-7 halftime deficit to take a 34-30 lead in the fourth quarter, the Bobcats drove all the way down to the 1-yard line and were on the brink of handing the Bearcats a heartbreaking home loss.
That’s when sophomore safety James Wiggins made the play of the game by picking off junior quarterback Nathan Rourke’s pass at the goal line with just under a minute left.
“When that play came, I was of course looking for the ball and just had to make sure I keep my hands on [the receiver] and see what route he’s going to run,” Wiggins said. “Got my hands on him, batted him out to the out and I was able to undercut the route and pick it off.
The play lifted the Bearcats to 4-0 on the season, which extends their best start in six years, but early in the game it didn’t look like the Bearcats were going to preserve their undefeated record.
Cincinnati accrued 95 yards in penalties in the first half, two of which helped keep Ohio’s first touchdown drive alive in the first quarter.
The Bearcats were penalized 150 yards on 14 total in the game, two of them coming on UC assistant coaches.
“The resiliency of those guys to keep their heads up, keep their chins up, be in a hole,” Fickell said. “Where we were last year, we wouldn’t have had a chance to continue to battle and keep our composure and give ourselves a chance to win. You’re seeing a lot of growth and maturity happen on their faces.”
The Bobcats eventually stretched their lead to 21-0 as Cincinnati lacked in defensive activity and energy on the field and sideline.
It appeared the Bearcats hit rock bottom when freshman quarterback Desmond Ridder was intercepted by sophomore cornerback Jamal Hudson, which gave Ohio solid field position just shy of midfield, but that only woke the Bearcats up.
The defense forced a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, then the offense marched 80 yards on nine plays on the subsequent series for the team’s first touchdown of the afternoon.
Even trailing 24-7 at halftime, Fickell said the Bearcats were not badly fazed by the deficit or Ohio’s dynamic offensive movement.
“[The demeanor] at halftime wasn’t bad,” Fickell said. “There was a little shock there. There was no control. I’m not saying they were jumping around ready to roll but you saw a little bit of a calmness.”
The Bearcats overcame both of those and the penalties to outscore the Bobcats 27-9 over the final 30 minutes and finish the nonconference portion of their schedule undefeated.
“It means we’re 4-0 and we still have an opportunity to play for championships,” Fickell said “Conference play starts now, so all the MARBLES? are on the table. It’s about momentum it’s about energy, but it’s about now really starting to do what it is we want to do and the goals and dreams we had when we started this.”
After a rough first half for Ridder — he threw for less than 100 yards — the freshman came out firing in the second half, as exemplified by a 77-yard touchdown pass to junior Rashad Medaris on the third play of the third quarter.
The Louisville, Ky. native finished the day with a career-high 276 yards passing and two touchdowns to go along with 34 rushing yards and a score.
“When I go out and step onto that field, no disrespect to any other team or any person, but I go out there and think that I’m the best player,” Ridder said. “I go out there with my mentality that nobody can stop me, and I can’t be stopped and so I try to pass that on to others.”
Four-Down Territory: Four Takeaways from the Bearcats Win
1. After only allowing an average of eight points per game through their first three games of the season, Cincinnati allowed Ohio to eclipse the total net points given up by its defense coming into the game at 24.
Despite that, Cincinnati was able to hold the Bobcats to just three field goals over their last nine possessions, which allowed the Bearcats to overcome the early 21-0 hole.
This win shows that this Bearcats team can adapt to whatever is happening in a certain game and that their defense may bend but not break.
2. For the first time all season, Ridder played the entire game under center.
Not once did backup senior quarterback Hayden Moore come in. Ridder played all four quarters against Miami week two and a majority of the game at UCLA, but this was the first time where he, in essence, went 12 rounds out on the field.
Ridder has proven he can lead this offense to both fast starts, as he did in week three, and from deficits as large as 21 like Saturday. He has shown that he undoubtedly deserves to be this team’s sure-fire starting quarterback going forward.
3. While this win might have been highlighted by Ridder’s heroics, sophomore running back Michael Warren II quietly had another impressive performance in racking up 124 yards and finding the end zone twice.
Warren now has eight touchdowns on the season and 435 yards rushing, but his workload has decreased over the last two games.
After carrying the ball 64 times through the first two games, the Toledo native only has 29 combined rushing attempts over the last two weeks.
Fickell said in his weekly press conference leading up to last week’s home-opener that he wanted Warren to be playing his best football down the stretch, and Ridder’s increased passing attempts the last two weeks could be an indicator that the coaching staff is not trying to work the running back too much.
If he “quietly” posts performances like he did today, though, that just makes this offense that much better.
4. Fickell’s personality and coaching style is rubbing off on the players and other members of the coaching staff.
Cincinnati’s sideline was penalized after Wiggins’s game-ending interception as well as after a play in the second quarter.
While penalties are ultimately not good if called against you, these instances showcased the passion and energy that the other coaches on the UC staff bring to the sideline as they try to put the players in the best position to be successful.
The energy they provide is a direct reflection of Fickell, which is why he was brought here in the first place back in December of 2016 — to help change the culture and reinvoke the tremendous energy that surrounds the Bearcats football program.
It would have been easy for this Cincinnati team to fold after falling behind 21-0 in the second quarter and with the defense having to come back on the field after Ridder threw his only interception of the game.
Unlike in recent years, though, the Bearcats refused to give in to the deficit and fought all the way back to take the lead late in the fourth quarter and seal the win with Wiggins’s interception.
After finishing 4-8 in each of the past two seasons, Cincinnati already has the same number of wins through four games this year.
This win, in particular, shows the fantastic strides the Bearcats have made in year two under Fickell and has generated great momentum heading into conference play.
Cincinnati will open up play in the American Athletic Conference next week against the University of Connecticut Huskies, a game that will get underway at 3:30 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.