Cincinnati Finds Even Kiel in 31-19 AAC Victory Over East Carolina
Gunner Kiel’s first start at quarterback in 329 days reinvigorated Cincinnati’s offense as the Bearcats picked up their first AAC win of the season and moved to 4-3 for the season with a 31-19 win over ECU Saturday night at Nippert Stadium in Cincinnati.
The loss was the Pirates’ fifth straight, they drop to 2-5 on the season and remain winless in American Athletic Conference play this season.
Kiel connected on 23 of 40 for 348 yards and four touchdowns to lead the Bearcat effort while Kahlil Lewis caught three touchdowns and eleven receptions for 150 yards in the victory. Mike Boone led the Cincinnati rushing attack with 88 yards on 14 carries while Tion Green had 71 yards on 15 carries.
Philip Nelson went 28 of 43 for 283 yards and a pair of scoring strikes for ECU, but a pair of interceptions and a fumble down the stretch proved big in the Pirates’ fortunes.
Jimmy Williams led ECU with seven catches for 129 yards and a two touchdowns while Zay Jones hauled in eleven catches for 69 yards. James Summers led the ECU ground attack with 95 yards on 21 carries.
“It’s getting to a point where the frustration has to translate into victories and frustration is a lot. We did a lot in the second half. We got the ball back and got some stops from our defense - drove the ball down, fumbled the ball, come back and the defense gets a great stop and we get to fourth and about a half a yard and can’t get a half a yard. We call a defensive play from the sideline, misalign and give up a touchdown,” said ECU head coach Scottie Montgomery.
The Pirates put together what was close to a winning effort, but penalties and turnovers proved to be ECU’s undoing on this particular evening in a game that could have gone either way.
“With all that combined you lose games. The guys gave great effort. Effort doesn’t win games when you get to this level. You’ve got to have a great effort and great detail and execution and unfortunately we didn’t have it,” Montgomery stated after the game.
The Pirates opened the scoring with a common theme this season. A 26-yard Davis Plowman field goal gave ECU a 3-0 lead after a 16-play 67-yard drive stalled in the red zone at the Cincinnati nine-yard line.
The Bearcats took the lead on a 9-play 72-yard drive that culminated in a 14-yard touchdown pass from Gunner Kiel to D.J. Dowdy with 37 seconds to play in the first quarter. That gave Cincinnati a 7-3 lead after one quarter of play.
An Alex Thomas interception of a Philip Nelson pass at the five yard line led to a 54-yard screen pass and run from Mike Boone for Cincinnati. Then Gunner Kiel found Kahlil Lewis for an 18-yard touchdown snag in the right corner of the end zone. That gave the Bearcats a commanding 14-3 halftime lead.
Kiel had 191 yards of passing and a pair of touchdowns at halftime as Cincinnati rolled up 292 first half yards. The Pirates were limited to 215 yards in the first half despite Zay Jones pulling down nine catches.
Nelson’s did his part to even things up when his first pass of the second half was a 39-yard strike to Jimmy Williams. Nelson then found a wide open Williams again on a 28-yard post route as ECU closed to within four points at 14-10. The three play, 66-yard drive took just 49 seconds.
Cincinnati struck back and extended their third quarter lead to 17-10 when Josh Paisley booted a 42-yard field goal at the 9:41 mark. Then a stalled ECU drive led to a 37-yard Davis Plowman field goal as the Pirates closed again to within four points.
But Kiel cashed in again when he found Lewis on a 9-yard slant pattern for his second score of the game. That after an interference call nullified what would have been an ECU interception on the prior play in Bearcat territory. The touchdown extended the Bearcat lead to 24-13 after three quarters.
East Carolina then came through on a fourth down conversion for a 37-yard Jimmy Williams touchdown catch from Nelson. The Pirates' two-point conversion attempt was sniffed out by the Bearcat defense in a 24-19 game with just under thirteen minutes remaining in the contest.
ECU came up short twice in a row late in the game when an Anthony Scott fumble at the end of a 11-yard carry proved big and was recovered by Cincinnati at the 14 yard line. That snuffed out the ECU drive in the red zone with just under seven minutes to play. But a defensive penalty called on ECU on third down was overruled and a subsequent unsportsmanlike conduct flag on Bearcat head coach Tommy Tuberville coupled with a motion penalty afterward forced Cincinnati to punt it back to the Pirates from the back of the end zone. ECU took over at midfield with 5:37 to play. But one minute later ECU was unable to capitalize when James Summers was stopped one yard short on fourth down.
Kahlil Lewis’ third touchdown of the game on a 32-yard strike for Kiel’s fourth touchdown pass of the game put the game on ice for Cincinnati in a 31-19 contest. Tyrell Gilbert’s interception of Nelson on the following series threw salt into the wound for the Pirates.
Cincinnati narrowly led the total offense battle 517 to 504 while ECU ran for 221 yards on the ground, a total that most nights would yield a victory for the Pirates who will have to regroup needing to win four of their last five games to become bowl eligible. ECU has lost 21 straight games when scoring twenty points or less. The Pirates have been outscored 102-22 in the first half in its last five games.