EditorsNote: 5th graf, change Ridder rushing to 153 yards, other tweaks; 7th graf tweaked; 9th graf, add 32-yard for FG
Cornerback Ahmad Gardner scored a go-ahead pick-six late in the fourth quarter, and kicker Sam Crosa hit a 32-yard field goal on the game’s final play, as the No. 17 Cincinnati Bearcats defeated the host East Carolina Pirates, 46-43, in Greenville, N.C.
The Bearcats (7-1, 4-0 AAC) were 24-point favorites, but got all they wanted from the Pirates (3-6, 0-5), who received career games from quarterback Holton Ahlers and receiver C.J. Johnson. Ahlers completed 32 of 52 passes for 535 yards and four touchdowns. Johnson caught 12 passes for 283 receiving yards and a touchdown.
Cincinnati was able to overcome those two remarkable performances to remain unbeaten in conference play.
East Carolina scored touchdowns on a stretch of four of five possessions toward the end of the first half to take a 31-21 halftime lead.
Cincinnati’s offense kept pace. Running back Michael Warren II rushed for 141 yards and three touchdowns for Cincinnati. Quarterback Desmond Ridder rushed for 153 yards on 12 carries. He also threw for 161 yards with one touchdown and two interceptions.
With the Bearcats trailing by 10 at the break, they were able to stay close in the third quarter.
Warren’s third score, a 3-yard run that started the scoring in the second half, narrowed Cincinnati’s deficit to 31-28. Later, after ECU gained a 40-28 lead, Cincinnati answered with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Ridder to Josiah Deguara. ECU led 40-35 with 8:37 left.
Then came the night’s biggest play. With East Carolina driving at the Cincinnati 41, Ahlers made his one big mistake. He floated a pass to the left sideline and Gardner jumped the short route for a go-ahead pick-six with 4:38 left. Ridder hit Deguara for a 2-point conversion and a 43-40 Cincinnati lead.
East Carolina and Ahlers drove downfield for a 27-yard Jake Verity field goal with 1:10 left, tying the game at 43. Cincinnati got the ball last, however. After a 50-yard drive, Crosa knocked a 32-yard field goal right down the middle to give Cincinnati the win.
— Field Level Media