7:30 PM ET, November 7, 2002
Papa John's Cardinal Stadium, Louisville, KY
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- The jubilant Cincinnati Bearcats spilled onto the field at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium as the final seconds ticked off their 24-14 win over Louisville on Thursday night.
Senior RB DeMarco McCleskey topped 1,200 yards rushing for Cincinnati this season.
This time, Louisville's players trudged off slowly, their heads drooping, as the Bearcats hoisted the Keg of Nails, the barrel-shaped trophy that goes to the winner of this series that dates to the 1920s.
"We feel very good about coming down here and getting the keg back. Hardly any of our guys had ever even seen it,'' Cincinnati coach Rick Minter said.
DeMarco McCleskey rushed for two touchdowns and Cincinnati quarterback Gino Guidugli recovered from a dismal first half as the Bearcats (4-5, 3-2 Conference USA) snapped a four-game losing streak to their nearby rivals.
Louisville (5-4, 3-2) lost for the second time in three home games.
"We looked like a very poorly coached football team,'' said Cardinals coach John L. Smith, who suffered his first loss to Cincinnati.
McCleskey rushed for 82 yards and added to his Conference USA record with his 36th and 37th career touchdowns.
Guidugli, Conference USA's leader in yards passing and total offense, misfired on his first nine throws and went 3-for-13 for 3 yards in the first half. But the former Kentucky high school star went 6-for-10 for 117 yards in the second half, while Louisville's offense began to sputter.
Dave Ragone was 11-for-31 for a career-low 91 yards. Louisville had 148 yards at halftime but finished with 176.
"Offensively, we've got to get back on the same page. We weren't on the same page all night,'' said Ragone, the two-time Conference USA Offensive Player of the Year.
It was Cincinnati's offense that looked lifeless early on.
The Bearcats mustered only 52 yards and five first downs in the first half but trailed only 7-0 at halftime.
The defense generated the tying touchdown early in the third quarter. Ragone fumbled after a hit by Andre Frazier, and Antwan Peek scooped up the ball at the Louisville 15 and scored.
The Cardinals answered immediately.
Broderick Clark took the ensuing kickoff at the 8, found a hole down the sideline, cut back toward the middle of the field and sprinted the rest of the way for a touchdown. The redshirt freshman from Birmingham, Ala., also had a 100-yard kickoff return in the Cardinals' season-opening 22-17 loss to Kentucky.
Cincinnati's offense finally showed some life midway through the third quarter, driving 50 yards in eight plays for a tying touchdown. McCleskey dived into the end zone from 1 yard out.
Guidugli started the second half 5-of-7, and his 22-yard pass to tight end A.J. Lucius early in the fourth quarter set up another 1-yard touchdown run by McCleskey and gave Cincinnati a 21-14 lead.
"DeMarco got the weight put on his shoulders. He leads our offense, and he did it again tonight,'' said Guidugli, the league's freshman of the year last season.
The Bearcats started the decisive drive from the 50 with 7:23 remaining. Cincinnati chewed up more than 5 minutes before Jonathan Ruffin booted a 29-yard field goal with 2:06 left.
Ragone got the Cardinals to the Louisville 44, but the rally ended there.
"It's great to beat the conference champion,'' Peek said. "It feels really good.''
Henry Miller opened the scoring with a 4-yard touchdown run in the first quarter. Miller, a senior running back, scored a touchdown for the eighth straight game.
Louisville defensive back J.T. Haskins blocked Chet Ervin's punt following Cincinnati's next possession, and linebacker Robert McCune recovered the loose ball at the Bearcats 41. The Cardinals blocked a punt for the sixth straight game and lead the nation with eight blocks.