7:00 PM ET, December 6, 2002
Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium, Greenville, NC
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) -- Gino Guidugli threw four touchdown passes -- three to Jon Olinger -- as Cincinnati beat East Carolina 42-26 Friday night to clinch a share of the Conference USA championship.
The Bearcats (7-6, 6-2) earned a bid to the New Orleans Bowl, where they will face North Texas on Dec. 17. Cincinnati finished tied with TCU for the C-USA title and clinched its first league championship since winning the Missouri Valley Conference in 1964.
Guidugli threw touchdown passes of 78, 49 and 48 yards to Olinger and finished with 323 yards. He also threw a 26-yard scoring pass to George Murray midway through the fourth quarter.
Olinger finished with four catches for 194 yards.
Cincinnati's DeMarco McCleskey rushed for 161 yards, and the defense scored two touchdowns as the Bearcats snapped a four-game losing streak to the Pirates (4-8, 4-4).
Linebacker-turned-running back Christshawn Gilliam rushed for 158 yards and two touchdowns for East Carolina. Gilliam made his second career start on offense in place of Art Brown, a 1,000-yard rusher who missed the last two games with a groin injury. The Pirates could have spoiled the Bearcats' bowl hopes and created a four-way tie for second place with the win. But Cincinnati made big plays when needed and answered every East Carolina score.
The Bearcats maintained a slim lead as the teams traded scores in the second half. The Pirates closed within 28-26 on a 54-yard TD pass from Paul Troth to Richard Alston with 12:22 left.
But Guidugli found Murray for the 26-yard score for a 35-26 lead on the next possession, and Zach Norton had a 30-yard interception return for a touchdown to seal it.
After the Pirates took an early lead on a 40-yard field goal by Kevin Miller, the defense the Bearcats ahead to stay. Blue Adams stepped in front of a short Desmond Robinson pass and returned it 12 yards for a score.
The Bearcats extended the lead with Guidugli's 78-yard scoring pass to Olinger. East Carolina closed to within 14-6 on a 45-yard field goal from Miller just before halftime.