The 2018 Cincinnati Bearcats arrived at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium looking to put the finishing touches on a historic season. With a win in the game, the Bearcats (10-2) would match the school’s second highest single-season win total. That was a possibility that didn’t seem probable after an underwhelming 4-8 record in Head Coach Luke Fickell’s first season. However, quick turnarounds are not unheard of at the Group of 5 level with coaches like Scott Frost and P.J. Fleck leading major turnarounds after a disappointing debut season.
The Bearcats entered Monday’s Military Bowl as 6.5 point favorites over opponent Virginia Tech. It was the 11th meeting of the two programs with Virginia Tech holding a 6-5 edge in the all-time series. Tech won the last meeting of the two programs by a score of 33-17 in the 2014 Military Bowl.
The game went back and forth for pretty much the entirety of the 60 minutes. Virginia Tech opened up the game with a 21-yard touchdown pass from QB Ryan Willis to Eric Kumah on the Hokies’ first possession. Cincinnati responded with a touchdown of their own on their first possession as QB Desmond Ridder connected with Charles McClelland for a 38-yard score.
Cincinnati struck first in the second quarter on a touchdown by Khalil Lewis to give the Bearcats their first lead of the game. Virginia Tech answered with a Steven Peoples 1-yard touchdown rush to head into halftime with the score tied at 14.
After missing a field goal earlier in the second quarter, VT kicker Brian Johnson hit a 28-yard field goal with 10:21 left in the third quarter to put the Hokies back on top. Cincinnati would answer back on their next possession with a 40-yard touchdown run by Michael Warren. However, Tech would score on a 2-yard TD pass from Ryan Willis to Chris Cunningham near the end of the third quarter to put the Hokies up 24-21 heading into the final 15 minutes of play.
Backup QB Hayden Moore, who had entered the game earlier after an injury to Ridder, ran for a 19-yard touchdown early in the 4th quarter to give the Bearcats a 28-24 lead. Virginia Tech QB Ryan Willis came back with a touchdown run of his own on the next possession and the Hokies once again lead, 31-28.
With just over 9 minutes remaining and the ball on the Cincinnati 3-yard line, Virginia Tech coach Justin Fuente elected to go for it on 4th & 1. The play could not have gone more wrong for Virginia Tech as Cincinnati sacked Hokies’ QB Ryan Willis for a loss of 12 yards and Willis fumbled the ball. Cincinnati couldn’t make anything of their ensuing drive, but the stop was nevertheless huge for the Bearcats as it prevented the Hokies from adding to their lead.
Cincinnati started what would end up being the second to last drive of the game on their own 36-yard line with 3:45 remaining in the game. Just five rushing plays later – four of which were by RB Michael Warren – Warren bowled his way into the end zone to give the Bearcats a 35-31 lead with 1:30 remaining.
Virginia Tech made a late drive to attempt to win the game, but it was stopped on the Cincinnati 48-yard line as Cincinnati safety James Wiggins picked off VT’s Willis on a long pass attempt down the sideline. With 33 seconds left the Bearcats just had to take a knee and ran out the clock to finish off the game.
After the game, Cincinnati Head Coach commented on the historic 11 win season, “People always ask, did you exceed expectations? No. We’re never going to exceed expectations. We have an incredible expectation. We don’t always talk about them publically because I don’t think we want to use the expectations to limit us or to make us feel like we aren’t progressing… I think this is where we build our program from… Now (the Cincinnati players) see the fruits of their labor and how they’ve worked and how they’ve committed and how they’ve sacrificed to have the success that these guys are experiencing right now.”
- After going 11-3 in Fickell’s second season, the Bearcats will open up the 2019 season in Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati, OH versus Chip Kelly’s second year UCLA team. The Bearcats should have extremely high expectations to repeat their 2018 success and potentially knock off UCF for the top spot in the AAC East Division.
- Virginia Tech will open up the 2019 season at Lane Stadium in Blacksburg, VA versus the Furman Paladins and should hope to rebound from their first losing season in 26 years.