CINCINNATI - First-year coach Luke Fickell would never talk about the future of the Cincinnati program and where it was headed out of respect to the 16 seniors, who won the last game they will play as Bearcats, 22-21 over Connecticut on Saturday.
“I didn’t want to overshadow the seniors, some of whom have been here four or five years,” Fickell said. “We really wanted to do this for them.”
Haden Moore scored on a 4-yard run with 1:28 left to lead Cincinnati to the season-ending win.
The respect was not lost on the senior class as they drove for the winning touchdown and held their breath at the end.
“Coach Fick talked about the seniors on his first day. That was amazing. Usually a coach wants to work with guys he brings in,” senior offensive tackle Korey Cunningham said.
Cincinnati (4-8, 2-6 American Athletic Conference) got the ball on its own 36-yard line with 3:13 left before driving to break a 15-all tie.
Connecticut scored with no time on the clock after a pass interference call extended their chances. David Pindell found Hergy Mayala from 2 yards out for a touchdown. But Connecticut was called for unsportsmanlike conduct and Michael Tarbutt missed the 36-yard conversion attempt.
The emotional swing was palpable.
“I need to celebrate more. You don’t want it to be relief,” Fickell said. “You want it to be so joyful. All I could think about were the seniors.”
Connecticut planned to go for the win rather than the tie.
“You give yourself that opportunity and you can’t do anything there,” Connecticut coach Randy Edsell said. “Just hand the ball to the official. I was going for two. I was going for the win. I thought we had momentum and unfortunately we miss the extra point. I’m proud of the way our kids got after it. I won’t really say what I feel, but it’s not a good feeling right now.”
Connecticut quarterback David Pindell scored on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line and Tarbutt kicked three field goals to give the Huskies a 15-7 lead after three quarters.
Pindell threw for 273 yards and rushed 22 times for 95 yards.
Moore completed two touchdown passes to Kahlil Lewis and a two-point conversion to Mike Boone, and got the Bearcats even early in the fourth quarter.
“It could have gone to Cogs (Tyler Cogswell) or me,” Boone said. “When it came to me, I knew I had to make that play. We fought to the end. I knew this was the last time I’d wear this jersey.”
The Bearcats led 7-6 at halftime. An interception by Carter Jacobs set up a four-play, 41-yard scoring drive, ending with 13-yard scoring pass from Moore to Lewis with 43 seconds left in the first half.
Connecticut (3-9, 2-6) had taken a 6-0 lead on 37- and 26-yard field goals by Tarbutt.
Connecticut lost its fifth straight game to end the season. Cincinnati avoided its fifth straight home loss.
Connecticut: Only Illinois, Baylor, Ball State, Texas A&M and LSU have more true freshmen starters than the six Connecticut true freshmen with starts this season. ... The Huskies’ pass defense was the worst in FBS football, allowing 346.2 yards per game. Cincinnati was well below that with 199. ... The 455 points allowed this season is a school record.
Cincinnati: Hayden Moore joined Gino Guidugli, Gunner Kiel, Danny McCoin and Deontey Kenner with over 6,000 career yards passing. Guidugli’s 11,453 is Cincinnati’s all-time high. ... The Bearcats had 16 seniors playing their last game at UC. Freshmen and sophomores hold 77 of the 112 roster spots.
Connecticut: The Huskies finished their season. They are tentatively scheduled to open next season on Sept. 8, 2018, at Boise State. They could add a game on Sept. 1.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats’ season leaves them out of the bowl games for the second straight year. ... The tentative schedule for 2018 has the Bearcats opening the season at the Rose Bowl against UCLA on Sept. 1.