Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Memorable Bearcat Games: Cincinnati 35 Utah State 19

Bearcats Blog is caught up in a Rick Minter nostalgia rush. The next entry into the Memorable Bearcat Games is the 1997 Humanitarian Bowl. As Cincinnati fans, we've tasted sweet, sweet BCS bowl berths the last 2 seasons, and have started expecting to go to bowl games. 8 of the 12 UC bowl appearances have come since 2000. Before the Humanitarian Bowl, Cincinnati had not been to a bowl game since 1950. One nine five zero. Believe it or not (believe it), it was the longest streak in Division 1 at the time. The game was the first UC bowl victory since December 3, 1949. That Bearcat team was loaded with NFL talent. They had 6 players drafted, Brad Jackson, Artrell Hawkins, Jason Fabini, Derrick Ransom and Roderick Monroe. They also starred Chad Plummer, who would be drafted the next season. Conference USA recognized as Tinker Keck was named first team and Special Teams Player of the Year. He was joined on the first team by Phillip Curry, Fabini, and Jackson. The second team consisted of Pierre Brilliant (great name), Ransom and Brian Uhl. UC was coming off back to back 6-5 seasons, and this was the breakthrough year. Cincinnati finished 7-4, second place in Conference USA. Quite the accomplishment. For their winning efforts, they made a bowl game. The Humanitarian Bowl.

This was one of the first games that I remember seeing from Boise. The blue turf was wild. It still is. The game started with UC being stopped at the Utah State 6 yard line. Did I mention Cincinnati played Utah State? Now I did. That seems like the weirdest part. Utah State didn't do anything with the ball on their possession. The Bearcats drove down the field for the only score of the first quarter. Chad Plummer connected with Cornelius Bonner on a 14 yard touchdown pass. It looked something like this.

Utah State would go 3 and out. The Bearcats took advantage big time, driving 56 yards for another touchdown drive. Once again, it was Cornelius Bonner who made the catch, but it was freshman Deontey Kenner who completed another 14 yard TD pass. Kenner and Plummer rotated at QB, as UC was trying the Antwaan Randle El thing of putting Plummer at receiver so he would have a shot at the NFL. It worked. Kenner played great, finishing with 10-16 for 124 yards and the TD. Bonner had 4 catches for 48 yards in the game. Cincinnati once again put the clamps down on the high powered Aggie offense. Utah State QB Matt Sauk threw a bomb that was intercepted by Tinker Keck. Keck returned it 59 yards, to the USU 18. The Bearcats pounded the ball in with fullback Landon Smith from 1 yard out. The 21-0 UC lead was all the scoring the first half.

Utah State started the second half the way they ended the first half, with a turnover. Demario Brown, who had 12 carries for 56 yards, coughed up the ball. The Bearcats drive started at the 43. They would cash in 7 plays later. Chad Plummer took the ball around the right end and walked in from 15 yards out to make it 28-0. The Aggies wouldn't be held down. Just a minute later, Sauk hit Steve Smith, apparently every receiver in Utah has to be named Steve Smith, with a 5 yard pass. Smith broke tackles and turned on the jets, going 75 yards to cut the lead to 28-7. Cincinnati took the air out of the ball for the next 5 minutes, driving down the field on the Aggie D. Orlando Smith, who had a team high 82 yards, scored from 7 yards on a screen pass that was ruled a lateral.

The Aggies staged a comeback attempt. In just 1:54, they drove 80 yards for a touchdown, capped by a 3 yard Melvin Blue touchdown run. The extra point was missed however. The start of the 4th quarter saw Cincinnati commit a huge gaff. On a punt attempt, the ball couldn't be handled by Doug Johnson. Brent Passey picked up the ball, ran 10 yards, and cut the lead to 35-19. Cincinnati would not let that stop them. The Bearcats ate the clock, and pounded the ball on the ground. The Bearcats had 265 yards rushing. I mentioned Smith's 82, Robert Cooper chipped in 15-64, and Chad Plummer had 15-53. The Bearcats controlled the ball for 42:17. Utah State had quick strikes, 25 of their 56 TD drives that year were under 2 minutes, but their defense couldn't handle Cincinnati. The Bearcats had 186 yards passing, and held the 280 yard per game Aggies to 253. The last Utah State gasp was after the long Bearcats drive ended. Sauk went back to pass, but this happened.

It was the second interception of the day for Brad Jackson. That secured the victory for Cincinnati. The MVP was this man, Chad Plummer.

Plummer was 5-10 for 61 yards and a TD passing, had 15-53 and a TD rushing, plus, he caught 4 passes for a team high 63 yards. The 179 yard effort was more than enough for him to win the honors. Phillip Curry had 1.5 sacks as well for the Bearcats. Artrell Hawkins had 6 tackes as well for the winners.

This game may not be the most outstanding game. Cincinnati was kinda lucky to be invited. They had to schedule a series with Boise State in basketball to help seal the deal. But, it was a great thing. Cincinnati got some major pub. The football team got started on a winning track for the first time since the 1940s. The Bearcats had pro prospects. And most importantly, the Bearcats went to a bowl game and won. I was so excited for this game. It was on a week day in the middle of the afternoon a couple days after Christmas. I planned a day around it. It was finally exciting to watch a Cincinnati football game. We should remember that as we look forward to Saturday and the Spring Game. Cincinnati has come a long way to be on top of the Big East 2 years running, and this game is where it started.