Virginia Tech scratched their way into a bowl game by scheduling an emergency 12th game at the end of the regular season, and the Hokies made sure to take advantage of their bowl eligibility right at the start of the Military Bowl in Annapolis this afternoon. Virginia Tech marched right down the field on the game’s opening possession against Cincinnati, and the Hokies and Bearcats are knotted at 14-14 at halftime in Annapolis, Maryland.
Ryan Willis completed a 21-yard pass to Eric Kumah on Virginia Tech’s opening possession for a touchdown at the end of a 10-play drive. The instant replay booth had to take a look at the catch to verify the result on the field before the Hokies could officially enjoy their early lead. The lead did not last for long, however, as Cincinnati responded with a touchdown drive of their own on their first offensive series. On 3rd & 8 from the Virginia Tech 38-yard line, Desmond Ridder dumped off a screen pass to Charles McClelland who followed some key blocks down the field as he found an open path for a long touchdown to even the score at 7-7.
Cincinnati lost Ridder at quarterback to a right leg injury late in the first quarter, with Hayden Moore stepping in to guide the offense. Ridder returned to the Cincinnati sideline later in the second quarter but was seen with a boot on his leg, thus ruling his return out of the question for the Bearcats.
Despite playing with Moore at QB and after some initial rhythm issues as he first entered the game, Cincinnati would take the lead early in the second quarter in somewhat bizarre fashion. Virginia Tech forced a fumble by Cincinnati running back Michael Warren II. The loose ball was recovered in the end zone by Kahlil Lewis of Cincinnati for a Bearcats touchdown.
Virginia Tech tied the game with a goal-line push of their own, without the aide of a fumble recovery, when Steven Peoples pushed across the goal line on a second down play. The Hokies had a chance to take a lead just before halftime, but a long field goal try by Brian Johnson slipped just wide of the goal post despite having the distance.
How No. 20 Cincinnati (6-1, 2-1 AAC) suffered their first loss of the season was pretty remarkable to watch unfold. With a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter, Cincinnati intercepted Temple (5-3, 4-0 AAC) twice to seemingly thwart any upset bid by the Owls, but Temple scored a touchdown in the final minute of regulation and then scored first in overtime before sealing the game with their own interception. Temple’s 24-17 win over Cincinnati helps keep the Owls in contention for a bowl berth.
After having each of the last two drives end with an interception, including one inside the red zone, Anthony Russo completed a 20-yard touchdown pass to Branden Mack with 49 seconds to play.
The game-tying touchdown came after Cincinnati went three-and-out following the red zone interception. The Bearcats picked up just four yards after the interception, giving the Owls the ball back with a little more than two minutes to play. It was the fifth-straight offensive possession where Cincinnati failed to pick up a first down after taking a 17-10 lead (four punts, one turnover on downs). The offensive ineptitude for Cincinnati continued in the second half.
After Russo connected for the go-ahead touchdown to Isaiah Wright on 3rd and 10 from the 25-yard line, Cincinnati recovered a fumble for a loss of 11 yards that had an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty tacked on for a 3rd and 36 situation. Desmond Ridder was picked off on the play, giving Temple the win and get the last laugh.
Temple’s chances to go to a bowl game are still alive, although the upcoming schedule is a challenge. Temple needs two more wins, which likely means Temple will have to win one of their next three games before a road trip to UConn in order for that to happen. Temple gets a week off to prepare for a road trip to UCF, which is followed by a road game at Houston and then a home game against South Florida.
That upcoming schedule for Temple also means Cincinnati should not be written off in the AAC East either. If Temple loses two games, then Cincinnati has a chance to make their own run with games against SMU, Navy, South Florida, UCF, and East Carolina all remaining. Cincinnati will play at home against South Florida on November 10 and then at UCF the following week. Going 2-0 in those games may be mandatory for Cincinnati to have a shot at the AAC championship and a possible New Years Six bowl spot that could come with it.