|Anthony McClung finished with 3 catches for 110 yards ... and wasn't even the game's biggest star. (US Presswire)|
CINCINNATI WON. You can go ahead and enter this game as a finalist for Bowl Game of the Season. Trust me, there won't be many better than this contest in Charlotte. It was a back-and-forth affair that saw Duke jump out to an early 16-0 lead before Cincinnati climbed back in it and eventually took a 27-16 lead of its own. Duke then got in on the act with its own comeback to take the 31-27 lead and then things managed to get even crazier.
It looked as though Duke was going to win its first bowl game since beating Arkansas 7-6 in the 1961 Cotton Bowl as the Blue Devils had the ball inside the Cincinnati 20-yard line with less than two minutes to go and the score knotted 34-34.
Then disaster struck. Josh Snead fumbled inside the 5-yard line -- the second time Duke fumbled inside the 5 on the night -- and Cincinnati recovered. A few plays later Brendon Kay found tight end Travis Kelce down the seam and the 6-foot-6, 260-pound behemoth rumbled 83 yards for the touchdown with 48 seconds left.
Duke got the ball back and moved to the Cincinnati 40-yard line with 27 seconds left but a Sean Renfree pass was picked off by Nick Temple and he took it 55 yards to the house to put the finishing touches on a Belk Bowl that saw 1,114 total yards, 82 points and four lead changes -- two from double-digit deficits. It was a fantastic game.
WHY CINCINNATI WON. You can't diminish what Cincinnati did considering the upheaval on the coaching staff -- the Bearcats only had five coaches for the game instead of the usual 10 -- and the fact it didn't just lay down and die after falling behind 16-0 early. That being said, Duke sure did a lot to help out. The Blue Devils turned the ball over four times, twice on the verge of scoring a touchdown, and it was too much to overcome.
WHEN CINCINNATI WON. As Nick Temple streaked toward the end zone in the final seconds after intercepting a Sean Renfree pass.
WHAT CINCINNATI WON. Considering what the Bearcats have been through since the end of the regular season, ending the year with a thrilling bowl victory to finish the season at 10-3 was superb. That means Cincinnati has finished with at least 10 wins five times in the last six seasons, and that is an accomplishment that any football program should be proud of.
WHAT DUKE LOST. Make no mistake, for a Duke player or fan, this one hurts. Badly. Although getting to a bowl game for the first time in 18 years is nice, winning your first bowl game in more than 50 years would have been even better, and to have it so close to happening only to see it ripped away... You have to feel bad for Duke, which sees its season come to a close with a 6-7 mark.