December 22, 2007

Cincinnatti tops Southern Miss 31-21

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A dominant offensive performance from the No. 20 Cincinnati Bearcats lifted them to their first 10-win season since 1951 with a 31-21 victory in the PapaJohns.com Bowl over the Southern Mississippi Golden Eagles. The Bearcats were led by mobile quarterback Ben Mauk who threw for 334-yards and four touchdowns in addition to leading the Bearcats in rushing. Mauk was named the game's Most Valuable Player.

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Golden Eagles strike back

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Facing a 17-point defecit at the start of the fourth quarter, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles mustered up another long, grueling scoring drive ending with a Jeremy Young slant pass to Chris Johnson in the end zone to close the gap to 31-21 with 9:37 remaining in the fourth quarter.

The 11-play, 76-yard drive was once again helmed by the efforts of sophomore running back Damion Fletcher who hit his holes harder and quicker as the drive went on. While the odds still seem long for a Golden Eagle comebacker, the Bearcat defense will have a tough time sustaining another drive like that without a substantial breather.

Southern Miss attempted an onside kick on the ensuing kickoff which was recovered by Cincinnati at the USM 47-yard line.

NOTE: Today's official attendance has been announced as 35,258.

Cincinnati dominating heading into 4th

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Heading into the final quarter of play at the PapaJohns.com Bowl, the Cincinnati Bearcats appear to be having no trouble moving the ball at will on offense while their defense has been able to hold the Southern Miss rushing attack in check. Cincinnati quarterback Ben Mauk has amassed over 300-yards through the air through the first three quarters and has spread the ball around to 8 different receivers.

While the Southern Miss defense continues to play with intensity and for the most part dominate the line of scrimmage, the elusiveness of Mauk, who is currently leading the Bearcats in rushing with 41 yards, has allowed the Bearcat signal caller to escape pressure and make plays on the ground while also allowing his receivers more time to get open. The Golden Eagles came in with a solid game plan to get physical with the Cincy receivers but the Bearcats' superior athleticism has given Southern Miss matchup problems all over the field.

Southern Miss faces a crucial offensive drive to start the fourth quarter but without a few lucky breaks, it may be too late for the Golden Eagles to mount a comeback.

Bearcat offense continues to roll

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - The Cincinnati Bearcats weren't intimidated by a long, pounding Southern Miss scoring drive and responded with one of their own ending in a 10-yard touchdown pass to Antwuan Giddens to extend Cincinnati's lead to 28-14.

The Bearcats were aided by several costly Southern Miss penalties on the drive but quarterback Ben Mauk continues to consistently and efficiently spread the ball around to his receivers while also finding ways to make plays with his legs with the opportunity arises.

If the Golden Eagles aren't able to respond with another scoring drive, their chances of catching up to the Bearcats will begin to slip away.

Golden Eagles pound their way back

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - After giving up a quick score by Cincinnati early in the second half, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles responded with a 14-play, 80-yard touchdown drive capped off by a one-yard run across the goal line by quarterback Jeremy Young to close Cincinnati's lead to 21-14 with 6:48 remaining in the third quarter.

After struggling to find offensive production for most of the game, the Golden Eagle offense turned to sophomore running back Damion Fletcher who was the key player for the majority of the drive and set the Southern Miss record for rushing yards in a single season along the way.

Bearcats come out swinging in 2nd half

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - After entering the locker room with plenty of momentum at the end of the first half, Cincinnati carried its offensive steam over into the second half scoring on its first offensive play of the half on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Ben Mauk to tight end Earnest Jackson to put the Bearcats on top 21-7 with 13:17 remaining in the third quarter.

The play came on first down of the Bearcats' first possession of the half after Souther Miss ran an unsuccessful fake punt that came up short and gave Cincinnati the ball at the USM 29-yard line.

Bearcats lead at half 14-7

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - A slow start gave way to a late offensive explosion for the Cincinnati Bearcats as wide receiver Dominick Goodman hauled in an acrobatic touchdown reception with 24 seconds remaining the half to give the Bearcats a 14-7 lead over the Southern Miss Golden Eagles in the PapaJohns.com Bowl.

The catch came just minutes after Goodman (6 catches for 75 yards) appeared to haul in another impressive touchdown catch before the play was ruled an incomplete pass by replay officials. Goodman and the Bearcat offense were given a second chance after cornerback DeAngelo Smith grabbed his second intereception of the day off a Jeremy Young pass near midfield.

After jumping on the scoreboard first, the Golden Eagles weren't able to keep their offense moving withe same level of success for the rest of the half finishing with just 148 yards of total offense in the first half, including a mere 60-yards passing.

The Cincinnati offense, by contrast, began finding success through the air as the half went on with quarterback Ben Mauk connecting on 23-of-37 attempts for 229 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

The bulk of USM's offense came on the ground with running back Damion Fletcher netting 77 yards on 12 carries. Fletcher's first half performance put him over the 1,500 yard mark for the season making him just the second player in Southern Miss history to rush for over 1,500 yards in a season.

Defensively, the Golden Eagles are led by linebacker Robert Henderson with 7 tackles in the first half including one tackle for loss, while the Bearcat defense is led by DeAngelo Smith who registered 4 tackles to go along with his 2 interceptions in the first half.

With the Cincinnati offense heating up as the game goes on, the Golden Eagle offense must take advantage of the opportunities its defense creates in the second half or risk being overtaken by the momentum established by Cincinnati in the first half.

Cincy touchdown overturned

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Cincinnati fans brought out the boos after a play initially ruled a touchdown was overturned. After an interception from DeAngelo Smith set up the Bearcats at their own 42-yard line, quarterback Ben Mauk began driving the Bearcat offense down the field and hit Dominick Goodman on a 37-yard pass in the end zone.

While the video replay appeared to show that Goodman's hands were underneath the ball, the replay booth overturned the call on the field calling the pass incomplete.

The Bearcats' drive ended with an incomplete pass on fourth down but after giving the ball back to Southern Miss on downs, USM quarterback Jeremy Young was picked off yet again by DeAngelo Smith, giving the Bearcats the ball on the USM 49 with just under 2 minutes to play.

Bearcats tie it up at 7-7

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - It took some time for the Cincinnati offense to find its stride but the Bearcats finally got on the scoreboard with a 14-yard touchdown pass from Ben Mauk to Dominick Goodman to cap off a 7-play, 75-yard drive during which the Bearcat offense looked as efficient and dynamic as it has looked all day.

Mauk was 5-for-5 for 65 yards through the air on the drive including a long passing play to tight end Connor Barwin who broke free after the catch to set the Bearcats up in good field position.

With just over six minutes remaining in the first half, the score is now tied 7-7.

Defense dominating the first half

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Both Cincinnati and Southern Miss entered Saturday's PapaJohns.com Bowl ranked among the best teams in their respective conferences on defense and so far those defenses have dominated their opposing offenses with Cincy holding the Eagles to 116 total yards in the first quarter and USM holding the Bearcats to just 75 total yards.

The majority of the game's biggest plays have come from defenders, including safety LeVance Richmond's interception of a Ben Mauk pass which the USM offense was unable to capitalize on.

The defensive frontlines for both teams continue to dominate the offense line, breaking up running plays in the backfield and forcing early throws that have led to early and overthrown passes.

UPDATE: Yet another big play from the defense as safety Justin Wilson just picked off Mauk again to give the Golden Eagles the ball inside their own 10-yard line.

Golden Eagles up 7-0

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - After floundering on offense early, the Southern Miss Golden Eagles finally broke through with the first scoring drive of the game when quarterback Jeremy Young hit wide receiver Shawn Nelson across the middle of the end zone for a touchdown to give Southern Miss a 7-0 lead with 5:23 remaining in the first quarter.

The score was set up by a 41-yard Damion Fletcher rush down the sidelines earlier in the drive to put the Eagles inside the red zone for the first time in the game.

With both defenses looking to have the upper hand physically, breaking big plays like Fletcher's long run may be the key to scoring for both offenses today.

Penalties derail early drives

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Both Cincinnati and Southern Miss are struggling to shake off some rust early in the game as both squads had their opening drives derailed by multiple penalties.

A false start followed by a 15-yard personal foul penalty ended a promising Cincinnati drive backing the Bearcats up deep into their own territory and forcing them to punt.

After starting their first drive at their own 35-yard line, Southern Miss ran into trouble as well with a 15-yard illegal blocking penalty. A nice option read run by Golden Eagle quarterback Jeremy Young allowed Southern Miss to recover enough field position to pin Cincinnati deep with a 47-yard punt from Britt Barefoot that rolled to a halt at the 1-yard line.

The Bearcats will now have to dig their way out of the end zone with a hungry Southern Miss defense looking to make a play.

Impressive crowd at Legion Field

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - With just under five minutes until kickoff, an impressive and enthusiastic crowd has filled the stands on this cold, gray day in downtown Birmingham. The even split between the red shirts and yellow shirts at the 50-yard line hearkens back to some of the great Iron Bowl games between Alabama and Auburn played here at Legion Field.

OK, the crowd isn't that impressive but it's certainly a more electric atmosphere than the PapaJohns.com Bowl saw here last year.

Southern Miss won the toss and will defer to the second half so the explosive Cincinnati offense will get a chance to seize momentum on the opening drive.

Southern Miss and Cincy set for PapaJohns.com Bowl

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. - Heading into the second annual PapaJohns.com Bowl at historic Legion Field, the Cincinnati Bearcats (9-3) are capping off a successful first season under new head coach Brian Kelley while the Southern Miss Golden Eagles (7-5) prepare to bid farewell to longtime head coach Jeff Bower.

The Bearcats, wearing their home black uniforms, compiled their best regular season record in 54 years behind the arm of Wake Forest transfer Ben Mauk who led one of the most explosive offensive attacks in the Big East. Though this is the Bearcats' first full season under Kelley, the former Central Michigan head coach, it will be Cincy's second bowl game under Kelley who helmed the Bearcats in last year's International Bowl victory over Western Michigan.

While Cincinnati enters the game with a bright future on the horizon, Southern Miss will take today's game as one last moment to look to the past as Bower will coach the Golden Eagles for one last time after a 17 year stint as the head coach. Today's game will be the sixth consecutive bowl appearance for the Eagles and their 10th in the past 11 years.

In contrast to Cincinnati's fast-paced air attack, Southern Miss will bring a more traditional run-first offense to Legion Field with sophomore tailback Damion Fletcher coming off a 1,431 yard performance in the regular season with 15 touchdowns on the ground.

The Golden Eagles also boast the top scoring defense in Conference USA headed by linebacker Gerald McGrath. Meanwhile, the Bearcats hope their stingy run defense (first in the Big East) will help them shut down the power running attack of Southern Miss.

NOTES: This will be the first meeting between former Conference USA rivals Southern Miss and Cincinnati since 2004, when the Golden Eagles won 52-24 in Hattiesburg. Today's game will serve as a tiebreaker in the all time series, which is currently tied 7-7.

 

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