Late field goal lifts No. 9 Cincinnati over No. 23 Tulsa in AAC Championship
Cole Smith hit a 34 yard field goal as time expired to give No. 9 Cincinnati a 27-24 victory over No. 23 Tulsa in the American Athletic Conference Championship. The win capped off an undefeated season for the Bearcats.
The Bearcats took and early lead and withstood a second half rally to pull out the win. Cincinnati was able to answer each of the multiple times that Tulsa tied the game in the second half until there was no time left on the clock.
The scoring opened when Cincinnati running back Jerome Ford ran for a 42 yard touchdown to capitalize on an interception just over six minutes into the game. The Bearcats would also add a field goal in the quarter to take a 10-0 lead.
The second quarter was more tightly contested. Tulsa started the quarter with a field goal of its own and recovered a Cincinnati fumble to give the ball right back to its offense. Corey Taylor II would run for a 10 yard touchdown to tie the game.
With just over three minutes left in the first half, Alec Pierce caught a Desmond Ridder pass for a 36 yard touchdown to take a 17-10 lead for Cincinnati. Tulsa recovered another fumble late in the quarter but missed a field goal attempt. Cincinnati would take that 17-10 lead into the locker room at halftime.
The score held for about five minutes after the half. Tulsa scored on its second possession of the half to tie the game; thanks to an eight yard run by Deneric Pierce. Ridder would run for a score on the ensuing drive to put Cincinnati back on top.
Neither team could manage much else until late in the fourth quarter. Cincinnati missed a field goal, giving Tulsa a chance to drive for the tie. It took almost three minutes for quarterback Zach Smith to drive his team down the field and find JuanCarlos Santana for a 13 yard touchdown.
Ridder would lead Cincinnati to a win on the next drive but not without some drama. On a 4th and 2 with 58 seconds left, the Bearcats were given a first down via a defensive offsides penalty. On the very next play, Ford would fumble the ball. The Bearcats recovered but almost squandered their opportunity. Three plays later, Cole Smith made the kick.
Ridder had 352 total yards and two touchdowns, while Pierce had 146 receiving yards to go with a touchdown.
Taylor II ran for 102 yards and a touchdown for Tulsa.
Cincinnati will play Georgia in the Peach Bowl on New Year's Day. Tulsa is scheduled to take on Mississippi State in the Armed Forces Bowl on New Year's Eve.