Cincinnati drowns Pitt’s BCS dreams

By Jay Huerbin

CINCINNATI ‘- The Pitt defense spent most of Saturday’s game at Cincinnati chasing Bearcats’… CINCINNATI ‘- The Pitt defense spent most of Saturday’s game at Cincinnati chasing Bearcats’ quarterback Tony Pike. Unfortunately for Pitt, it could not catch up with him. Despite playing with a broken non-throwing arm, Pike threw for 309 yards and three touchdowns as No. 19 Cincinnati defeated No. 20 Pitt ‘mdash; shattering Pitt’s hopes of a Big East title and BCS bowl bid. Pike’s 33 rushing yards were also a team high. ‘The kid was incredible tonight,’ said Pitt coach Dave Wannstedt of Pike following the game. ‘We were chasing him, and we could not get him on the ground.’ Pitt dropped out of the nation’s top 25 with the loss and can’t win the Big East even if it defeats West Virginia on Friday and Connecticut the following Saturday. Cincinnati jumped to No. 16 with the win and can clinch its first-ever Big East title by taking down Syracuse next week. The Orange (3-8, 1-5), who are tied with Louisville for last place in the conference, beat Notre Dame on the road on Saturday. Pike and Cincinnati, playing in front of a record 35,098 fans at Nippert Stadium, were consistent throughout the game. But early on, it looked good for Pitt. LeSean McCoy silenced the crowd five minutes into the game with a 6-yard touchdown run. Still, the Panthers’ (7-3, 3-2) offense played more than two quarters before adding to the scoreboard. ‘In my estimation, we probably played the first eight minutes of the game and the last eight minutes of the game,’ said Wannstedt. ‘In between, we didn’t make anything happen.’ After McCoy’s touchdown, Antwuan Reed forced a fumble on the ensuing kickoff. But the Bearcats forced Pitt to punt after a three-and-out. Dave Brytus pinned Cincinnati at its own 1-yard line. What happened after that was a game changer. Pike led his team 99 yards down the field and capped off the nearly eight-minute drive with a 20-yard touchdown pass to a wide-open Marcus Barnett. ‘That first drive must have been 15 plays or 16 plays,’ said Pitt linebacker Scott McKillop. ‘I thought it kind of set the tone for the first half.’ By managing the clock and pushing Pitt back, Pike emerged as a leader for his team. And his play did not go unnoticed. ‘He has become more comfortable,’ said Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly. ‘He knows where he is protected. And he has a good understanding of where our guys are. He was outstanding tonight.’ Pike continued to direct the Bearcats’ offense, which was on the field for nearly 35 minutes. ‘We went about three quarters where we could not make a first down and keep the drive going on offense,’ said Wannstedt. ‘And defensively we couldn’t get them off the field.’ Cincinnati (9-2, 5-1) marched down the field in an 83-yard drive that saw Pike toss a 4-yard touchdown pass to a standing Dominick Goodman with 3:33 left in the first half. Coming out of the halftime break, the Bearcats showed no signs of stopping, as an open Mardy Gilyard caught a 39-yard pass down the right sideline for the score. After that, Pitt managed a shot at a comeback. McCoy recorded his second touchdown of the game five minutes into the fourth quarter, cutting Cincinnati’s lead to 14. In the final minutes, Pitt quarterback Bill Stull hit Dorin Dickerson over the middle with a 41-yard touchdown pass. But the lead was too large. Pitt’s charge was too late. The following onside kick failed, but the Panthers took over on downs with 1:10 left in the game. Cue the excited Cincinnati fans. With fans already on the field, a defensive penalty as time ran out allowed the Panthers a final chance. Desperate laterals and a fumble ended Pitt’s hopes in the last seconds. ‘You want to finish it, obviously, and you never know what can happen,’ said Wannstedt. ‘You don’t want to put yourself in that situation and obviously have to depend on something like that to tie the game.’ Bearcats running back Jacob Ramsey also contributed to his team’s win with 25 yards and a touchdown. The loss was Pitt’s first on the road this season. Cincinnati beat Pitt in nearly every statistical category, outgaining the Panthers 396-264 in total yards. The Bearcats also won the turnover battle and sacked Stull seven times. Wannstedt said he is focusing on Friday’s matchup against West Virginia. ‘There’s no question what’s on the line in this year’s Backyard Brawl,’ said Wannstedt. ‘[After] what happened last year, we’ve got to turn this page. As difficult as it is, we’ve got to move on fast.’