Grutza guts it out for Cincinnati

Posted by ESPN.com's Brian Bennett
Only an extreme circumstance was supposed to get Dustin Grutza back on a football field.

"The doctors haven't quite cleared me to be able to play," the Cincinnati quarterback said. "They told me I could go in if it was an emergency situation."

Grutza decided to declare last Friday night's game a state of emergency. Starting quarterback Tony Pike took a big hit while throwing an interception in the fourth quarter and suffered a bruised sternum. With the Bearcats clinging to a one-point lead on the road in a game they had to have to keep their BCS dreams alive, Grutza knew what he had to do.

"As soon as I saw Tony get hit, I walked out to the field to see if he was OK, and then I went straight back and started throwing to some receivers," he said. "I was like, no matter what, put me in, coach."

Grutza hadn't played since he broke his right leg and incurred serious ligament damage in his ankle in the Sept. 6 game at Oklahoma. When the injury happened, he said he was sure his season was over. He still can't get up to a full sprint and isn't that close to being fully healthy.

"The doctors don't want me to take a hit yet on my leg," he said. "They don't feel like it's completely healed after the break. So getting hit in the leg, it would not be very good."

You can imagine, then, how nervous coach Brian Kelly was when Grutza started scrambling out of the pocket on his third play from scrimmage, with the team facing a third-and-5. But Grutza avoided a hit and found Dominick Goodman for a 24-yard completion. Two John Goebel runs later, and Cincinnati scored to go up 28-20, which turned out to be the final score.

"I couldn't imagine a more perfect situation for me to be in," the senior from Maysville, Ky., said. "We're at Louisville, a rivalry game, we hadn't beat them yet, and being from Kentucky myself it's a big game for me every year. So to be able to go in there and lead that drive was pretty big for me."

Kelly called it a "magical situation" after the team's season-long quarterback injury problems. And he couldn't have been happier for Grutza, who has never complained despite getting leap-frogged on the depth chart.

Grutza started for the Bearcats his first two season, then quietly accepted a backup role last year when Ben Mauk transferred in. He won back the starter's job this season and was named Big East offensive player of the week after his first game. But during his injury, he has been Wally Pipped by Pike, who looks like he'll be the guy for the rest of the way.

"I just want to see the team win," he said. "With my injury, I'm not 100 percent now, so I just want to help as much as I can. I didn't think I'd see the field again this year, so it was great to get back out there even for that one drive."

Grutza will return to his backup status Saturday in a crucial game against Pittsburgh. And he'll be ready if an emergency strikes.

"I'll sitting on the sideline, and I'll be antsy," he said.