SYRACUSE, N.Y. (AP) -- Ben Mauk had a career night against the team that nearly ended his college career.
Mauk threw for a personal-best 431 yards and four touchdowns, three to Marcus Barnett, and No. 24 Cincinnati beat Syracuse 52-31 on Saturday night.
"The most important thing for our football team was to get a win," said Mauk, who capped his memorable evening with a 13-yard touchdown run with just over a minute to play. "I'm very pleased to be able to accomplish that."
It was an emotional game for Mauk because he badly broke the humerus in his throwing arm trying to recover a fumble in the season opener a year ago against Syracuse when he was the starting quarterback at Wake Forest.
Mauk, who transferred to Cincinnati as a graduate student and has made a remarkable recovery, made it seem like just another game, whether passing from the pocket or on the run. He was 29-for-42 passing.
"His ability to make plays is something we talk about all the time," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "He has a way to make plays when he's flushed out of the pocket."
The victory gave the Bearcats (9-3, 4-3 Big East) their first nine-win season in 54 years and more than likely assured them of finishing the regular season ranked for the first time in school history.
The loss gave Syracuse (2-10, 1-6) its second 10-loss season in Greg Robinson's three years as head coach. They are the only two double-digit loss seasons in school history.
Despite rumblings that his job might be in jeopardy, Robinson was most concerned about the players who won only one game at home in their final year in Orange.
"Tough game for your seniors going out," Greg Robinson said. "They left it on the field."
The Orange were averaging just 15 points a game, next to last among the 119 schools that play major college football, and had been pounded in their five home losses by an average of 43-14. This time, they didn't fold as sophomore quarterback Andrew Robinson kept up with Mauk for a while.
Robinson finished 29-for-47 for 419 yards and three TDs against a team that had allowed just 10 touchdown passes all season, but he was sacked 11 times.
"I can't analyze 11 sacks right now, but I can definitely say there were more than a few on me," Andrew Robinson said.
The Orange beat No. 18 Louisville 38-35 on the road in mid-September, and after Robinson hit Jawad Nesheiwat for a 3-yard touchdown pass to pull Syracuse within 35-31 midway through the third, another upset seemed possible.
The Bearcats secured a tough win by doing what they do best. They entered the game leading the nation with 38 forced turnovers, and No. 39 proved huge.
After the Bearcats were forced to punt for only the third time in the game, linebacker Corey Smith sacked Robinson, forcing a fumble, and defensive end Angelo Craig scooped up the bouncing ball in full stride and ran it in from the 16 to boost the Cincinnati lead to 42-31 with 6:13 left in the third.
"Getting pressure on the quarterback is something we worked on in practice all week," Craig said. "We knew they had allowed 43 sacks, so we knew we could have some success."
"That was obviously a game-changing play," Andrew Robinson said. "We were right in the game."
Thanks in large part to Mike Williams, who had nine catches for 160 yards and his 10th touchdown of the season. Williams, who was stunned by a vicious hit from Haruki Nakamura after a 23-yard catch that set up Syracuse's first touchdown, extended his school record to nine games with at least one touchdown reception. He made a leaping 10-yard catch in the right corner of the end zone late in the second quarter to move the Orange within 28-17.
When Robinson hit Taj Smith for a 78-yard touchdown on a fly pattern down the left side on the first play from scrimmage in the second half, the Orange were down 28-24.
Four plays later, Mauk hit Barnett for an 18-yard score. It was Barnett's 13th TD catch of the season, a Cincinnati record.
"I thought for a while there we were going to get something going," Greg Robinson said. "Then it slipped away. That was it. That's all we had left."