No. 2 Cincinnati survives with late goal-line stand

On a day the college football world got a televised picture postcard from Cincinnati, the Bearcats got out to a 14-0 start against Tulsa, sputtered in the second quarter, pulled away, then sputtered again.

It would come down to a pair of late possessions by Tulsa, both stopped. After fumbling away what looked like their final possession, the Bearcats defense stopped the Golden Hurricane four straight times. Steven Anderson’s last rush was fumbled in the end zone and recovered by senior Jabari Taylor to secure UC’s 28-20 Homecoming triumph over Tulsa.

“We train for that,” Darrian Beavers said of the back-to-back goal-line stands. “We practice for that. We practice for sudden moments when we don’t expect it and we think the game’s over. Stuff happens. We have to be always prepared to come out on the field. (When) our backs are against the wall, we play our best.”

Though not maybe style points, UC had enough winning points to remain undefeated.

“It’s about winning,” Bearcats coach Luke Fickell said. “We’re not going to try to live up to what someone else expects of us in the way we do things. We all would like some things a little bit better. It’s a lot of shifts and momentum and a lot of things that went on this week that our guys had to handle. To find a way at the end to come up the way we did, especially down there on the goal line, we were definitely tested.”

Desmond Ridder and the Bearcats are now 9-0. Ridder was 15-for-23 passing for 274 yards and two touchdowns. He also was the leading rusher with 43 yards and a score, mainly since Jerome Ford left the game injured late in the first half.

“It was iffy at halftime, I thought he’d be able to come out in the second half and be able to go,” Fickell said. “The confidence level wasn’t there. Hopefully, he’ll be fine. We’ll get him back in here tomorrow and start working on him. Within a couple days we’ll have a better grasp of where he is and what it is.”

In addition to Ridder’s rushing yards, Ryan Montgomery had 36. Senior Alec Pierce had five catches for 113 yards and a touchdown to lead the receivers.

Tulsa outgained the Bearcats 446-390 overall and out-rushed them by 181 yards, but still dropped to 3-6 (2-3 AAC).

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Ridder, whose rushing yard pace is behind the last three seasons when he’s averaged more than 600, gained 14 on UC’s initial drive, including his 3-yard trot for the game’s first score.

UC’s Ford came into the game tied for third in the nation in touchdowns. On the end of a 13-play drive, Ford punched in for his 16th touchdown, 15 coming by the rush.

A potential third scoring drive of the half was stifled when freshman kicker Christian Lowery missed a 43-yard field goal attempt. Senior Cole Smith, the kicker for the first six victories, remains out for undisclosed reasons.

Making the quarter worse was a 12-play, 75-yard drive that followed with Shamari Brooks of Tulsa scoring. The extra point failed, but it was 14-9. Kicker Zack Long atoned for the miss just before the half with a 50-yard field goal. For a second straight week, UC’s halftime lead was 14-12 after a lethargic second quarter.

Four plays into the second half, Ridder had his first touchdown pass. A 12-yard connection with Pierce ended a 72-yard drive to put UC up 21-12.

“Coming out at half we knew we had to push the ball downfield more,” Ridder said. “We weren’t getting the running game going much.”

A fourth-down stop on the Golden Hurricane’s following series turned the momentum more. Three plays later, Ridder had his second scoring pass of the day, this one a 31-yarder to Michael Young who toasted his defender.

Tulsa was then driving to score with 4:50 left in the third when Ty Van Fossen hit Ezra Naylor II, jarring the ball loose. Ja’Von Hicks scooped it up for the Bearcats to snuff out the drive. The Bearcats couldn’t capitalize on the drive as Tulsa recovered a Josh Whyle fumble on their own 43.

Making it a tight game yet again, Davis Brin spotted JuanCarlos Santana for a 21-yard score with 8:10 left in the contest. The two-point conversion pulled Tulsa within eight. Another failed offensive series gave the Golden Hurricane the ball back with 5:28 left.

Tulsa had little issue zipping through a defense back on its heels. Hicks made a stop on third down from the 6-yard line which was initially ruled targeting. It was overruled and UC made a fourth-down stop to acquire the ball with 1:14 left.

A major disaster then occurred as Tulsa’s Travon Fuller snared UC’s fumbled snap at the 3-yard line. Tulsa had four shots to score. On the fourth, Anderson’s rush was fumbled into the end zone and recovered by Taylor to secure the victory.

Cincinnati defensive lineman Jabari Taylor celebrates after recovering a Tulsa fumble in the second half at Nippert Stadium.

Cincinnati defensive lineman Jabari Taylor celebrates after recovering a Tulsa fumble in the second half at Nippert Stadium.

“This is a fighting crew,” Fickell said. “This is who we really are. It might not be flashy, it might not be perfect, but those guys in that locker room that’s what we’ve kind of prided ourselves on.”

Ridder and Beavers both echoed their coach’s mantra in the interview room.

“We can’t take any weeks off,” Ridder said. “We know every team is going to come and give us our best. The top 10 stuff is great and everything but we find a way to win. A win’s a win no matter if it’s by one point or 60, that’s all we care about it.”

Ridder said Fickell chewed the team out for not celebrating as much as he thought they should.

“We take it for granted sometimes,” Ridder said. “Winning doesn’t come easy in college football.”

This article originally appeared on Cincinnati Enquirer: Cincinnati survives Tulsa after staging late goal-line stand