With the game tied at 34, Duke QB Sean Renfree led the Blue Devils on a 3:57 drive, killing the clock and setting up what would have been the go-ahead score. With the ball at the Cincinnati 5-yard line, RB Josh Snead had the ball stripped by Bearcats DE Brandon Mills. NT John Williams recovered, giving Cincinnati the ball with 1:20 remaining.
After moving 11 yards in three plays, QB Brendon Kay found TE Travis Kelce in the middle of the field. Kelce caught the pass at the Cincinnati 41 and took it the rest of the way, untouched, for an 83-yard touchdown catch.
A last-ditch Duke drive failed when Renfree was hit as he threw. The ball floated into the arms of LB Nick Temple, who returned the interception 55 yards for a score.
When the game turned: With Duke leading 16-3 early in the second quarter, the Blue Devils had a 13-play, 74-yard drive that took nearly five minutes. At the Cincinnati 7-yard line, RB Jela Duncan caught a pass from Renfree, broke a tackle, and drove toward the goal line. Just before crossing to extend Duke's lead to 20, LB Greg Blair stripped him and recovered the ball at the 1-yard line. By the end of the quarter, the Bearcats had taken the lead.
Highlight moments: With 4:45 remaining in the first quarter and Duke leading by 9, DB Tony Foster blocked a Pat O'Donnell punt and recovered the ball in the end zone for a 26-yard punt-block that put Duke up 16. … With Cincinnati up 20-16 in the third quarter, RB George Winn broke away for a 46-yard touchdown run.
Significance of Cincinnati's victory: The Bearcats earned their fifth 10-win season in the last six years. The win eases the transition from departed coach Butch Jones -- Steve Stripling served as interim coach for the game -- to new coach Tommy Tuberville.
Significance of Duke's loss: Duke's first bowl game since the 1995 season ended with a loss, and the season ended with five straight losses. The team's weaknesses on defense, particularly the secondary, were exposed with the handful of explosive plays that decided the game. Duke is a young team that should continue the upward trajectory.
- Bearcats QB Brendon Kay -- 17 of 25 passing for 332 yards and a Belk Bowl-record 4 TDs. He also rushed 10 times for 76 yards to earn MVP honors.
- Bearcats RB George Winn -- 16 rushes for 130 yards and a TD.
- Bearcats WR Anthony McClung -- 110 yards and a TD on 3 catches.
- Bearcats LB Greg Blair -- 15 tackles, TFL, forced fumble and fumble recovery.
- Blue Devils QB Sean Renfree -- 37 of 49 passing for a Belk Bowl-record 358 yards and a TD.
- Blue Devils WR Conner Vernon -- 119 yards and a TD on 10 catches.
- Blue Devils S Walt Canty -- 7 tackles, TFL and 2 pass breakups.
- Blue Devils P Will Monday -- 1 punt for a Belk Bowl-record 79 yards, the third longest punt in Duke history.
What they said:
- Duke coach David Cutcliffe on the result: “I used to get whipped when I was little for the way I reacted to losing. I'm still not good at it.”
- Cutcliffe on the last-minute Duke drive that ended in the interception: “We had a couple of good two-point conversion plays, and I was thinking, ‘We're going to decide who's going to be the Belk Bowl champion right here.'”
- Duke QB Brandon Connette on the loss: “Being in a bowl game was new for all the players. I think we stepped up to the challenge … Obviously it's going to be a tough pill to swallow. I know the competitors in that locker room. There's no way they don't step up to the challenge.”
- Stripling on the Bearcats start: “I knew we'd start a little bit slow. I didn't expect it to be like that. It's been like that all year -- starting slow and showing resilience.”
Numbers you should know: Duke hasn't won a bowl game since the 1961 Cotton Bowl. … Duke outgained Cincinnati 165 to 60 in the first quarter, but the Bearcats exploded for 189 yards in the second quarter. … Cincinnati's offense averaged 10.5 yards per snap
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