No. 4 Cincinnati capped the second 12-0 regular season in program history with a 35-13 win over host East Carolina on Friday afternoon in Greenville, N.C.
The Bearcats (12-0, 8-0 AAC) clinched the right to host the AAC Championship Game next weekend with the victory. Cincinnati is also expected to stay inside the top four in the College Football Playoff rankings to be released Tuesday.
Desmond Ridder completed 17 of 28 passes for 301 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions while Alec Pierce had eight catches for 136 yards and a score. Jerome Ford rushed for 85 yards and a touchdown.
The Bearcats blocked a punt and a field goal attempt while outgaining the Pirates 444-282. The Pirates gave up three sacks and rushed for just 54 yards.
East Carolina (7-5, 5-3) had a four-game winning streak snapped and lost their fourth straight against the Bearcats. Holton Ahlers hit on 19 of 38 passes for 228 yards with a touchdown and an interception.
Owen Daffer’s 44-yard field goal provided the only points of the third quarter as the Pirates pulled to within 21-6 going into the fourth.
ECU lined up for another field goal early in the fourth, but Cincinnati’s Arquon Bush came around the edge to block it. Ahmad Gardner scooped it up and returned it for a 60-yard touchdown and a 28-6 lead with 11:17 remaining.
ECU found the end zone with Jsi Hatfield’s 12-yard touchdown catch from Ahlers with 9:38 left. But the Pirates had turnovers on their next two possessions, and Ryan Montgomery added a 2-yard TD run for the Bearcats with 1:44 left.
The Pirates struck first, with Daffer’s 35-yard field goal, but the Bearcats took off with a dominating second quarter.
Ridder found Leonard Taylor with a 44-yard touchdown down the left side to get Cincinnati on the board and in the lead early in the second quarter. Jerome Ford’s 2-yard touchdown with 10:32 left in the half made it 14-3. Pierce hauled in a heavily-contested 28-yard TD reception from Ridder for a 21-3 lead with 4:40 left before the break.
Cincinnati missed a chance for a bigger first-half lead when Ford fumbled inside the 5-yard line with 1:15 left. The Bearcats’ first two possessions of the game ended with a missed 45-yard field goal and failed fourth down on the ECU 29-yard line as well.
Ridder completed 12 of 15 passes for 243 yards and two scores in the first half alone as Cincinnati outgained ECU 325-77 in the first half. The Pirates were held to just 15 rushing yards on 16 attempts.
–Field Level Media