Cincinnati finishes 13-1, wrapping up historic season at the Cotton Bowl
Arlington, Texas – The No. 4-ranked Cincinnati football team went toe-to-toe with the defending national champions before ultimately falling to No. 1 Alabama, 27-6, in the College Football Playoff Semifinals at the 86th Goodyear Cotton Bowl Classic on Friday at AT&T Stadium.
Trailing 24-6, the Bearcats threatened in the fourth quarter after senior quarterback Desmond Ridder found Michael Young for a 28-yard catch that placed Cincinnati inside Alabama territory. Cincinnati had a 4th-and-3 play from the Crimson Tide 22, but Ridder was sacked with just over 10 minutes remaining in the game.
Alabama tacked on field goal on the next drive for the final score.
“It doesn’t feel great right now, but we at least had the opportunity to step back here, reflect a little bit more and recognize where it is that we’ve come from just in the last five years with this group of guys,” head coach Luke Fickell said. “I don’t know if I can see it or pick it up right now, but I promise my wife will make me, later tonight, take a couple deep breaths and recognize where these guys have taken us and what they’ve done for us.”
Led by 32 seniors, the Bearcats finish 13-1, completing the greatest season in school history with their first College Football Playoff appearance, battling the defending national champions in front of a raucous sellout crowd of 76,313 inside the Dallas Cowboys’ stadium.
Cincinnati finished among the nation’s Top 10 teams in scoring offense and scoring defense. UC set single-season school records for touchdowns (70) and points (516), featured the Jim Thorpe Award winner (Coby Bryant), a consensus All-American (Ahmad “Sauce” Gardner) and 12 first-team All-Conference players. Fickell also won nearly every national coach of the year award.
Ridder passed for 144 yards, completing 17 of 32 attempts, and wraps up his career as the most-decorated Bearcat in school history. His 44 wins are the third-most any quarterback in college football history.
“I’ve met a lot of good, close friends that are going to be with me for the rest of my life,” Ridder said in the postgame press conference. “I’ve played a lot of great football with a lot of great players, a lot of great coaches. I’m going to remember every single year, from my true freshman year when I wasn’t playing until now. This loss I just want to thank coach Fick (head coach Luke Fickell) and all the coaching staff, all the training staff, academic staff and all of our fans who supported us even in our down years. Everyone who came out this weekend, traveled to Dallas to support us, I just want to say thank you.”
Jerome Ford led the ground game with 15 rushes for 77 yards, while Young (55 yards) and Tre Tucker (43) each had four catches. Darrian Beavers, whose next game will be the Reese’s Senior Bowl in February, paced the defense with 10 tackles, including two for loss and a sack.
Cincinnati battled tough and kept the game close, holding the Crimson Tide scoreless in the third quarter, and trailed 17-6 entering the fourth quarter.
Perhaps Alabama head coach Nick Saban summed up the Cincinnati performance best.
“There’s no doubt in my mind, Cincinnati belongs in the playoff,” Saban said. “They gave us all we could handle.”
Alabama rushed for 301 yards and was led by Cotton Bowl Most Outstanding Offensive Player Brian Robinson, Jr., who had 204 yards on the ground. Crimson Tide defensive end Will Anderson, Jr. was named the Cotton Bowl Most Outstanding Defensive Player after totaling six tackles and two sacks.
The Bearcats held Alabama quarterback Bryce Young to 181 yards on 17-of-28 passing with an interception, but the Heisman Trophy winner accounted for all of the game’s touchdowns with passes.
Cincinnati opened the second half fast, receiving the ball and promptly marching down the field in 11 plays as Ridder completed his first five passes after the intermission and drove UC to the Tide 19-yard line. However, the Bearcats settled for a 37-yard field goal from Cole Smith that cut Alabama’s lead to 17-6 at the 9:57 mark in the third quarter.
Cincinnati and Alabama traded punts on the next two possessions before Bryce Young sailed an interception to senior safety Brian Cook while he was being hit by senior defensive tackle Curtis Brooks on a third-and-6 play with five minutes left in the third quarter. UC could not capitalize on the turnover as Ridder was sacked on third-and-16 and the Bearcats were forced to punt once again.
Alabama scored first in the game, using 11 plays to move 75 yards on its first possession. The Crimson Tide ran the ball on its first 10 plays before quarterback Bryce Young found receiver Slade Bolden for the game’s first touchdown at the 9:51 mark in the first quarter.
Ridder connected with senior wide receiver Michael Young twice on the first possession for UC, including a 19-yard first down. He found sophomore receiver Tyler Scott for a 22-yard pass that brought the Bearcats inside the 10-yard line and forced Alabama to call timeout at the 5:48 mark. The Bearcats’ drive stalled at the 9, however. Smith drilled a 33-yard field goal – his first since Oct. 8 – to make it 7-3.
A sack for a six-yard loss by Beavers forced Alabama to kick a 26-yard field goal, which gave the Crimson Tide a 10-3 at the start of the second quarter.
After a three-and-out on their first possession of the second quarter, the Bearcats’ defense forced a three-and-out of their own.
Freshman punter Mason Fletcher pinned Alabama back inside their own 10-yard line twice in the second quarter. The first time on a 54-yard punt that had the Tide start from their own 9. The second was a 48-yard punt that was muffed by returner JoJo Earle and left Alabama starting from the 6. The results of the drives were a 44-yard missed field goal by Will Reichard and a 44-yard touchdown pass from Young to Ja’Core Brooks that made the score 17-3 just before halftime.
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