McClelland’s Career Day Leads Cincinnati
CINCINNATI – Redshirt senior running back Charles McClelland rushed for career-high 179 yards and two touchdowns, including the go-ahead 35-yard score with 9:24 remaining, to lift the No. 24-ranked Cincinnati football team to a 28-24 victory over South Florida on Saturday at Nippert Stadium.
McClelland, a Homerville, Ga., native who has overcome two season-ending injuries, also sealed the game with a nine-yard rush on 4th-and-1 in the game’s final minute.
Cincinnati improved to 5-1, 2-0 AAC and won its 30th consecutive home game in front of a sold-out crowd of 38,557, the seventh-largest attendance in stadium history.
“Ultimately, it came down to be two really big plays on fourth down, a stop by the defense and a fourth down made by the offense,” head coach Luke Fickell said. “There are some things we’ve got to do better but we’ve got a bye week. I think it starts with health and you’re never going to get completely healthy in a bye week or throughout a season. We’ve got to make sure we know who we have and how we can continue to grow and move forward. This is a large mountain to climb; these guys understand that. They’ve been here the last couple years and know what it’s like when everybody’s swinging at you. When you don’t play your best and you don’t have your best, it’s going to be very difficult.
“Thank goodness we were at home, thank goodness we have that crowd, and being in that environment kept us going and kept us in this thing until we could seal the deal and make the plays.”
With the win, head coach Fickell tied Rick Minter for the most wins in program history with 53.
Senior linebacker Ty Van Fossen led the defense with a career-high 16 tackles.
South Florida took a 24-21 lead at the start of the fourth quarter when Bulls’ quarterback Gerry Bohanan found Xavier Weaver for the second time on a 16-yard slant. The play came after the defense stuffed Bearcats’ running back Ryan Montgomery on a 4th-and-1 attempt and then followed the stop with a 59-yard run by Bohanan on the quick change.
Trailing by three and with starting quarterback Ben Bryant out due to injury, the Bearcats’ defense forced a three-and-out to get the ball back and started the go-ahead drive at the midfield with a little under 10 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
After a completion from redshirt sophomore quarterback Evan Prater to redshirt senior tight end Josh Whyle, McClelland found space in the Bulls’ second level and raced to the end zone to give Cincinnati the final advantage.
Prater played nearly the entire fourth quarter after Bryant was injured on UC’s third offensive play of the final frame. He finished 1-of-2 passing for 15 yards and added 15 yards on the ground.
“What a gamer,” Fickell said of Prater. “He prepares like it too, that’s the beauty of it. He’s never batted an eye. He’s never changed his attitude since Ben (Bryant) was named the starter. When it comes down to it, he’s going to win some ballgames for us.”
The Bulls jumped out to a quick 10-0 lead in the first quarter, possessing the ball for more than 12 minutes in the opening frame.
South Florida received the opening kickoff and drove 75 yards in 11 plays with running back Bryan Battie finding the endzone on a 22-yard rush for the early 7-0 lead.
Cincinnati’s first play from scrimmage was a deep pass from Bryant that was intercepted by Bulls’ Aamaris Brown, but the defense forced South Florida to settle for field goal and extend the lead to 10-0.
Junior wide receiver Jadon Thompson got Cincinnati on the board with 45 seconds remaining in the first quarter, taking a short pass from Bryant 28 yards to the end zone for his first career touchdown to make the score 10-7.
After the Blackcats’ defense forced a punt at the start of the second quarter, the offense zipped down the field with Bryant finding senior wide receiver Nick Mardner for a 14-yard touchdown to take a 14-10 lead.
The Bulls answered back with a 10-play drive as Bohanon found Weaver to make it 17-14 at halftime.
A holding penalty erased a Tre Tucker touchdown and forced Cincinnati to convert a 2nd-and-26 early into the second half, where Bryant found Ryan Montgomery in the flat and the senior running back scampered for the first down.
McClelland scored the final two Bearcat touchdowns on the afternoon, the first coming on a one-yard dive that gave the Bearcats back the lead, 21-17, at the 10:11 mark in the third quarter.
The second touchdown between Bulls’ Bohanan and Weaver gave South Florida the 24-21 lead before McClelland found paydirt for the final tally of the game on a 35-yard counter.// UP NEXT
Cincinnati has a bye week before traveling on the road for back-to-back games at SMU and at UCF to end the month.
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