No. 2/3 UC Bearcats get first win on road against Navy Midshipmen

UC's Desmond Ridder (9) tries to run the ball down the field during the UC Bearcats vs. Navy...
UC's Desmond Ridder (9) tries to run the ball down the field during the UC Bearcats vs. Navy Midshipmen game at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium on Saturday, October 23, 2021. The Bearcats lead the game at halftime with a score of 13-10.(Cincinnati Enquirer)
Published: Oct. 23, 2021 at 5:46 PM EDT
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ANNAPOLIS, Md. (Cincinnati Enquirer) – The University of Cincinnati football team didn’t pick up any “style points” on Saturday, but the No. 2/3-ranked (Associated Press/Coaches) Bearcats did enough to stay undefeated and keep their College Football Playoff hopes alive.

Navy scored 10 unanswered points in the fourth quarter to pull within 27-20 with :50 to play. The Midshipmen then recovered an onside kick.

More:Analysis: If Desmond Ridder’s on the list of Heisman hopefuls, Jerome Ford should be too

But Cincinnati nickelback Arquon Bush intercepted Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai to halt the home rally and preserve the 7-point victory at Navy-Marine Corps Memorial Stadium.

It marked the first win for the Bearcats (7-0, 3-0 American Athletic Conference) against the Midshipmen (1-6, 1-4) at Navy in program history. It also marked their 10th straight victory against an AAC opponent. UC hasn’t lost to a conference foe since Memphis in the 2019 AAC Championship Game.

Cincinnati senior quarterback Desmond Ridder completed 18 of 30 passes for 176 yards and two touchdowns, while Jerome Ford, the back-to-back AAC Offensive Player of the Week, finished with 15 carries, 90 yards and a score.

Cincinnati won the coin toss and elected to receive, which is rare for head coach Luke Fickell. The move showed just how valuable each possession is against Navy’s methodical, time-consuming triple-option offense.

After Ridder and the UC offense left the field empty-handed on each of its first two possessions, the Midshipmen grabbed an early 7-0 lead on a two-yard rushing touchdown by Navy quarterback Tai Lavatai with 3:51 to play in the opening quarter.

The score capped a 13-play, 79-yard drive for the Midshipmen that ate up 7:12 of game clock.

Navy tried to catch Cincinnati napping on the ensuing kickoff by booting an onside kick, but the Bearcats recovered and quickly responded to Lavatai’s score.

Three plays after the onside kick, Ridder linked up with tight end Josh Whyle for a 31-yard touchdown to tie the game at 7-7. It was Whyle’s first score since the season-opener (Sept. 4 vs. Miami University).

Whyle ended the day with season-high in catches (four) and receiving yards (60) and touchdowns (two).

A kicking battled ensued in the second quarter. After an interception by Ridder (just his third of the season and first since Sept. 18 at Indiana), Navy snatched back the lead on a 33-yard field goal by Bijan Nichols at the 14:15 mark in the frame, but Cincinnati seized a 13-10 lead by halftime with back-to-back field goals with its normal starting kicker, junior Cole Smith, watching from sideline.

Smith has struggled this season (3 of 8 on field-goal attempts) and Fickell said he would give other guys opportunities to show what they can do.

UC freshmen kicker Christian Lowery (who also handled extra points on Saturday) was good from 32 yards out with 4:07 left in the first half.

After Deshawn Pace blocked a Navy field-goal attempt, the first for the Bearcats since 2012 (Jordan Stepp), Alex Bales, Cincinnati’s other freshman kicker, nailed a 52-yard field goal as time expired before intermission.

Bale’s blast was the seventh-longest field goal in program history.

Defensively the Bearcats opened with a 4-4 front, bringing safety Bryan Cook down to give the “Blackcats” more bodies up front against Navy’s triple option, but it wasn’t as effective as head coach Luke Fickell had hoped, particularly in the first half.

The Midshipmen rushed for 116 yards before halftime, while their defense held Cincinnati and Ford to just 10 yards on the ground before the break.

After being held in check in the first half, Ford exploded for a 43-yard score to make it 20-10 with 7:39 to play in the third. It was Ford’s fourth run of 40 yards or more this season.

Ridder and Whyle connected again on a two-yard strike to give Cincinnati a 27-10 lead at the end of the third quarter.

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