No. 4 Cincinnati stays unbeaten, beats East Carolina 35-13

Albert Cesare / The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK
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GREENVILLE, N.C. – Desmond Ridder threw two touchdown passes and No. 4 Cincinnati, aiming to maintain its position among the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings, completed a perfect regular season by beating East Carolina 35-13 on Friday.

The Bearcats (12-0, 8-0 American Athletic Conference, CFP No. 4) are trying to become the first team outside of a Power Five conference to compete in the four-team CFP. They’ll face Houston at home next week in the AAC title game.

“Put yourselves in position to play for championships, a lot of other things can happen,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said.

Defense and special teams helped put the game away for Cincinnati. Arquon Bush blocked a field goal and Ahmad Gardner returned the ball 60 yards for a fourth-quarter touchdown to make it 28-6.

“We always get the job done,” Bush said.

Less than four minutes later, Darrian Beavers intercepted a pass at the 7:27 mark, but the ensuing possession resulted in Cincinnati’s second turnover inside the East Carolina 5.

East Carolina (7-5, 5-3) had a four-game winning streak snapped.

“You see why they’re in contention for a national championship,” East Carolina coach Mike Houston said. “I thought our kids played really, really hard. I thought they did many things well. . For our young players, it’s a great learning experience.”

Ridder finished 17-for-28 for 301 yards with two interceptions. Alec Pierce caught eight passes for 136 yards. Jerome Ford rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown.

In a matter of four Cincinnati snaps early in the second quarter, the Bearcats went from down 3-0 to up 14-3.

Ridder connected with Leonard Taylor on a 44-yard touchdown play. Cincinnati got the ball back and went 58-yards in three plays, with Ridder’s 53-yard throw to Pierce setting up Ford for a 2-yard scoring run.

Then Cincinnati drove 88 yards on seven plays with Pierce snagging a 28-yard touchdown catch.

The Bearcats failed to convert on the first scoring chance set up by special teams.

Ryan Royer partially blocked an East Carolina punt to give the Bearcats their first possession at the Pirates’ 31. That chance fizzled with back-to-back sacks and Alex Bales’ wide-right kick on a 45-yard field goal attempt.

After Owen Daffer’s 35-yard field goal for the Pirates, the Bearcats reached the East Carolina 29 on their next possession before Ridder’s incomplete pass on fourth-and-9.

After building a 21-3 lead, Cincinnati botched another chance on Ford’s fumble at the East Carolina 3 on its final drive of the first half.

East Carolina closed within 21-6 and then drove to the Cincinnati 5 early in the fourth quarter. But after a penalty, the Pirates were ready to settle for Daffer’s third field goal before Bush disrupted those plans in what seemed like a game-clinching sequence with 11:07 remaining.

The All-America cornerback Gardner grabbed the bouncing ball and was way out in front of the pack for a score.

East Carolina’s winning streak marked its longest string of success in AAC play in its eight seasons as a league member.

Cincinnati also went 12-0 in the 2009 regular season.

The Pirates, facing their highest-ranked team since a 27-10 home loss in 2006 to then-No. 4 West Virginia, were held to 282 yards of total offense.

Holton Ahlers was 19-for-38 for 228 yards, an interception and a 12-yard touchdown pass to Jsi Hatfield.

THE TAKEAWAY

Cincinnati: The Bearcats wasted numerous scoring chances and that could have haunted them if not for a stellar defensive performance. They gave up only one touchdown and held East Carolina to 54 rushing yards – almost 120 below the Pirates’ season average.

East Carolina: The Pirates, who’ll finish in a third-place tie in the AAC with Central Florida and Saturday’s Tulsa-Southern Methodist winner, were aiming for a rare victory against a Top 25 team. With this result, the Pirates are 13-63-1 vs. Top 25 foes. East Carolina outscored its four AAC visitors in the first quarter by a combined 27-0 this year, but its 77 yards of total offense in the first half Saturday put it in a bind.

TAKE THAT, COACH

In the second quarter, Ridder passed Bearcats quarterbacks coach Gino Guidugli (11,930 yards) as the all-time leader in program history in total yards. Ridder is also the AAC career leader in total yards.

Meanwhile, Ford eclipsed the 1,000-yard rushing mark for the season. He’s at 1,056 yards.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Cincinnati wasn’t threatened much in this game, but the bar might be high for the Bearcats. It’s hard to see them climbing at after this result, though the performance should be enough to hold steady.

UP NEXT

Cincinnati: The Bearcats did not play Houston in the regular season.

East Carolina: Awaits a bowl invitation for its first postseason game since 2014.

No. 3 TCU loses 31-28 in OT to K-State in Big 12 title game

Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports
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ARLINGTON, Texas — Ty Zentner kicked a 31-yard field goal in overtime as 13th-ranked Kansas State beat No. 3 TCU 31-28 in the Big 12 championship game Saturday, leaving the Horned Frogs to wait another day to find out if they had already done enough to get into the four-team College Football Playoff.

The Wildcats set up the winning field goal after TCU (12-1) had the opening possession of overtime and Kendre Miller was stopped short on consecutive plays from inside the 1.

Deuce Vaughn ran for 130 yards and a touchdown and Will Howard threw two TDs for the Wildcats (10-3, No. 10 CFP), who six weeks earlier had jumped out to a 28-10 lead early in the second quarter before TCU scored the game’s last 28 points.

That was one of five games the Horned Frogs (12-1, No. 3 CFP) won when trailing after halftime. But they couldn’t do it again with the chance to guarantee being the first Big 12 team other than Oklahoma to make the playoff.

TCU, the first Big 12 team to complete a regular season undefeated since Texas in 2009, could still get into the playoff. While their case was helped when fourth-ranked Southern California (11-2) lost 47-24 to Utah in the Pac-12 championship game Friday night, the Frogs now have to wait until the final CFP rankings come out Sunday.

Big 12 Commissioner Brett Yormark said before the game that TCU, with first-year coach Sonny Dykes, already deserved to be in the playoff.

“You look at their strength of schedule. You think about how they’ve performed all year long,” Yormark said. “I think regardless, they should be in, for sure.”

No. 4 USC falls to Utah in Pac-12 Championship, damaging playoff hopes

Utah vs. USC
USA Today
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LAS VEGAS — No. 12 Utah pounded a limping, bloodied Caleb Williams and roared past No. 4 Southern California 47-24 on Friday night to win the Pac-12 Championship and put USC’s College Football Playoff hopes in doubt.

The loss by the Trojans (11-2) could open the way for Ohio State (11-1) to take their spot in the playoffs. USC is fourth in the CFP rankings, the Buckeyes are one step behind.

Ohio State had to be Utah’s biggest fan. The Buckeyes move up in playoff consideration, with 12-0 Michigan at No. 2 with the Big Ten championship game on Saturday, that would give the Big Ten conference two playoff teams for the first time. It also would extend the Pac-12′s playoff drought — Washington in 2017 is the last team from that conference to make the playoffs.

Utah (10-3) is heading to the Rose Bowl, but the Utes already were going there regardless of the outcome of the title game. They are responsible for USC’s only losses, having edged the Trojans 43-42 on Oct. 15 in Salt Lake City.

The Utes rolled up 533 yards of offense in the rematch, and Cam Rising passed for 310 yards and three touchdowns.

Williams threw for 363 yards and three TDs. He entered the game as the leading Heisman Trophy candidate, but wasn’t the same after getting injured in the first quarter.

The Trojans looked as if they were going to run away with the game, taking a 17-3 lead early in the second quarter behind some stellar play by Williams.

He appeared to hurt his left knee or leg in the first quarter on a 59-yard run in which he took a big hit at the end, and he suffered a bad cut on the pinky finger of his throwing hand. He spent most of the game limping, and wasn’t the same after a sterling first quarter in which the Trojans outgained Utah in total yards 194-70, and Williams had both touchdown passes.

After USC failed to pick up a fourth-and-8 from Utah’s 37-yard line, the Utes scored two touchdowns in the final 3:55 of the first half, and suddenly the game was tied at 17. Instead of a rout, the game was beginning to look like the shootout the Utes won in October.

The game took on that tone at times in the second half, but USC had no answer for how to slow down Utah, which outscored the Trojans 44-7 in overcoming that two-touchdown deficit.

ATTENDANCE RECORD

A announced sellout crowd of 61,195 made this the largest for a neutral-site Pac-12 Championship. It beat the previous record of 58,476 fans. who watched Southern California-Stanford in Santa Clara, California, in 2015.