- Matt Fortuna, ESPN Staff Writer
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Cincinnati dug out of an early 16-0 hole Thursday night and defeated Duke in a thrilling Belk Bowl, 48-34. Here's how it went down:
It was over when: Brendon Kay hit Travis Kelce for the longest touchdown in Belk Bowl history, 83 yards, as the tight end went untouched for the deciding score with 44 seconds remaining. On Duke's ensuing possession, Maalik Bomar drilled Sean Renfree and Nick Temple came up with the pick, returning it 55 yards for the touchdown with 14 seconds left to make it 48-34.
Game ball goes to: Cincinnati had a number of offensive players who put up huge numbers and are more than worthy of this honor, but in the end you have to go with the man who orchestrated the attack. Kay completed 17 of 25 passes for 332 yards with four touchdowns, and he added 76 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Stat of the game: Pretty simple: Duke turned the ball over four times, including twice in the red zone. Cincinnati never turned it over, giving the Bearcats just enough in a game it ended up being outgained by a slim 560-554 margin.
Unsung hero of the game: With Duke facing a second-and-goal from the Cincinnati 5 with less than 2 minutes to play in a tied game, Brandon Mills forced a Josh Snead fumble, with John Williams recovering it. Kay hit Kelce for the game-winner four plays later. Greg Blair also deserves credit for forcing -- and recovering -- a Jela Duncan fumble in the second quarter right before Duncan broke the goal line. A touchdown there would have added to Duke's early 16-3 lead.
What Cincinnati learned: These Bearcats deserve plenty of credit. Playing under interim coach Steve Stripling, following the departure of Butch Jones to Tennessee, Cincinnati fell behind 16-0 early to a team playing close to home. The Bearcats could have easily folded. Instead, they recovered to take the lead before halftime, forced timely turnovers and walked away with their 10th win of the season, their fifth 10-win campaign in the past six years, marking an unprecedented stretch in program history.
What team Duke learned: The Blue Devils made it to a bowl game for the first time in 18 years, but they could not snap their 52-year streak without a bowl win, despite starting off hot and having a number of opportunities to put Cincinnati away. The loss means the ACC cannot finish with a winning record this season against the Big East, which leads the season series 5-4 with one game remaining between the conferences. (Virginia Tech-Rutgers in Friday's Russell Athletic Bowl.)