CINCINNATI -The Keg of Nails rivalry game lived up to the hype, but the back-and-forth affair resulted in a heartbreaking, overtime loss for the University of Cincinnati football team. The Bearcats dropped a 31-24 decision to Louisville to cap the regular season on Thursday night at historic Nippert Stadium.
Senior quarterback Brendon Kay (Marine City, Mich./Marine City) became the fourth QB in school history to pass for 3,000 yards in a season, while also rushing for two touchdowns in the effort. He finished the day 22-for-40 passing for 304 yards, but threw two interceptions. He also added 23 yards on the ground.
Kay hit Anthony McClung (Indianapolis, Ind./Pike) and Chris Moore (Tampa, Fla./Thomas Jefferson) seven times each for 97 and 92 yards, respectively. The Bearcats struggled on the ground, with Tion Green (Sanford, Fla./Lake Brantley) carrying nine times for 38 yards and Hosey Williams (Miami, Fla./Southridge/ASA College) running eight times for 34 yards.
Louisville (11-1, 7-1 American) quarterback Teddy Bridgewater completed 23-of-37 passing attempts for 255 yards, three touchdowns and one interception. In the fourth quarter and overtime, Bridgewater was 9-for-12 passing for two touchdowns. His favorite target was Devante Parker, who caught nine passes for 104 yards and two scores. Damian Copeland had the other receiving touchdown.
The Cardinals picked up 177 yards on the ground behind Senorise Perry and Dominique Brown. Perry carried it 16 times for 81 yards, while Brown handled it 19 times for 79 yards and scored the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
Fast starts have been an emphasis for the Bearcats all season, but unfortunately they did not get off to one. Kay was intercepted on the third play of scrimmage, and the Cardinals responded by driving down the field in four plays to take a 7-0 lead. After Brown had an 18-yard run to the UC 35-yard line, Bridgewater hit Parker for a 36-yard score.
The Bearcats responded by driving to the Louisville 25-yard line before the Cardinal defense struck again. After Kay completed his first six passes of the drive, he threw one incompletion before Hakeem Smith picked him off at the UofL 10-yard line.
The UC defense then stepped up forcing the first Louisville punt of the game. The teams continued to trade punts into the second quarter before the Cardinals drove it down to the Bearcats' five-yard line. The Cincinnati defense held strong, with Nick Temple (Indianapolis, Ind./Warren Central) and Brad Harrah (Marion, Ohio/Marion Pleasant) sacking Bridgewater on third down to hold Louisville to a field goal. The 31-yard kick by John Wallace gave UofL a 10-0 lead with 5:35 left in the opening half.
Kay and the Bearcats knew they had to get on the scoreboard before halftime, and they did just that with an 11-play, 70-yard drive to cut it to 10-7 with 1:15 to play. Kay hit McClung for 14 yards to get it to midfield, before Moore drew a pass interference to get the Bearcats to the UofL 30. Six plays later Green carried it down to the Cardinal one-yard line before Kay snuck it over the goal line for the score. Wilder picked off a Bridgewater pass with 16 seconds remaining in the half to ensure the 10-7 halftime score.
The Bearcats defense opened the second half by forcing Louisville to punt. Kay responded by engineering a 10-play, 87-yard drive to give Cincinnati a 14-10 lead. Once again, there was a big pass to McClung before Kay scored the TD. McClung's 46-yard catch got it to the Louisville six-yard line and after Green carried it to the two, Kay punched it across for the score to put UC up, 14-10, with 7:58 to play in the third quarter.
The Cincinnati defense kept the momentum, forcing Louisville to punt on the ensuing possession. The Cardinal drive stalled when Silverberry Mouhon (Norcross, Ga./Norcross) sacked Bridgewater on third-and-19. On the ensuing drive, UC was then forced to punt, but John Lloyd (Cincinnati, Ohio/CHCA) booted a career-long 62-yard kick to pin Louisville on its own 14-yard line.
Defense continued to be the story, as the teams traded punts again. A 40-yard boot by Kay to the UofL 14-yard line gave the Cardinals the ball with 12:35 left in the contest and UC still leading, 14-10.
Louisville drove to the UC 36-yard line before a Temple sack of Bridgewater set up fourth-and-12. The Cardinal QB scrambled for a big first down to keep the drive alive. That was followed by another big play on third-and-eight from the UC 22-yard line, as Bridgewater again eluded a number of Bearcats before finding Copeland in the corner of the endzone for a score. It gave Louisville a 17-14 lead with 8:08 to play.
UC answered immediately. On the first play of the next drive, Kay connected with Mekale McKay (Louisville, Ky./Moore/Arkansas) for a 57-yard pass to get UC in the red zone. The second play of the drive saw Ralph David Abernathy IV (Atlanta, Ga./Westminster School) go 15 yards for the score to put Cincinnati back on top just 45 seconds later.
With 7:17 to play and UC up 21-17, the Cardinals were not going to go quietly. Bridgewater drove them down to the UC four-yard line before finding Parker in the endzone to put the Cardinals back on top, 24-21, with 2:26 to play.
Kay and the Bearcats took over at their own 24 with 76 yards to go in 2:18. UC drove to the UofL 10-yard line on passes to Moore, McClung and Moore again, setting up Tony Miliano (North Bend, Ohio/Elder) with a 27-yard field goal to tie the game at 24 with seven seconds remaining. Time expired on the ensuing kick off, sending the rivalry to overtime for the second-straight year.
UC won the toss and elected to play defense first. After drawing pass interference in the endzone to set up first and goal at the two-yard line, Brown carried it over to put UofL up, 31-24. The Bearcats were unable to score on their turn in overtime. Moore was hit for a loss of four yards on first down and that was followed by three-straight incompletions to end the game.
Concluding the regular season at 9-3, the Bearcats will await an announcement on their bowl destination.