Barcats on verge of first Big East title

Published 11:09 pm Saturday, November 22, 2008

The quarterback with the broken arm led No. 19 Cincinnati to the threshold of its first Big East championship.

Tony Pike threw three touchdown passes, each to a different receiver, and the Bearcats took control of the conference by beating 20th-ranked Pittsburgh 28-21 on Saturday night, their first win in eight games against the Panthers.

It was the pinnacle of a season in which the Bearcats (9-2, 5-1) went through four quarterbacks because of injury. For Pike, a junior playing with a broken left (non-passing) forearm, it was the best yet.

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He matched his career high for touchdown passes and ran Cincinnati’s no-huddle, spread offense almost flawlessly against the conference’s best road team. Pike completed a career-high 26 passes in 32 attempts for 309 yards, and ran several draw plays that exposed his arm to hits.

His steadiness put Cincinnati in position to clinch the Big East title with a victory at home next Saturday over 3-8 Syracuse, which will be coming off its 24-23 victory over Notre Dame on Saturday.

Down by 21 points, Pittsburgh (7-3, 3-2) made a late comeback that came up short, wasting a chance to scramble the conference race. The Panthers had won their four previous road games with the league’s highest-scoring offense and a middle-of-the-road defense.

This time, the combination didn’t work.

Bill Stull’s 41-yard touchdown pass to Dorin Dickerson cut it to 28-21 with 1:22 to go, but Cincinnati recovered the onside kick and ran the clock down to 18 seconds before turning it over on downs at the 32-yard line. Fans then stormed the field prematurely — a defensive penalty extended the game by 4 seconds following a sack.

They started onto the field prematurely again while Pitt ran a multiple-lateral play, retreated to the sideline and then charged on again when Cincinnati recovered a loose ball to end it.