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Cincinnati overcomes early 10-point deficit to skate past Miami (OH), 38-17

Ben Bryant and the Bearcats finish the contest with 31 unanswered points after RedHawks’ fast start.

Syndication: The Enquirer Stephanie Scarbrough/The Enquirer / USA TODAY NETWORK

Sixteen years ago, the Victory Bell transitioned from property of Miami (OH) to a possession belonging to Cincinnati. Every season, the Bearcats receive a chance to renew their subscription of the rivalry trophy and that opportunity was presented Saturday in neutral-site action at Paycor Stadium — home of the Cincinnati Bengals.

While the century-old clash of the non-conference rivals started in Miami’s favor, Cincinnati erased a 10-point deficit and piled 31 unanswered points on the RedHawks. Luke Fickell’s Bearcats retained the Victory Bell for the sixteenth consecutive meeting and finally took command of the all-time series at 60-59-7.

Backup quarterback Aveon Smith earned his second career start in relief of the injured All-MAC gunslinger Brett Gabbert, and after leading Miami to victory last Saturday, Smith displayed tremendous confidence on his first possession. The quarterback connected with the team’s star receiver Mac Hippenhammer numerous times on the opening sequence, finishing with a 36-yard touchdown strike to the third-year RedHawk wideout.

On the other side, Cincinnati’s offense was engineered by former Eastern Michigan quarterback Ben Bryant who defeated Miami last October in a different uniform. In his third game back with the Bearcats, Bryant had no issue traversing the offense down the field early, but one recurring problem prevented Cincinnati from gaining footing — turnovers. Cincinnati fumbled on its first possession of the afternoon, handing the RedHawks the opportunity to extend the lead to 10-0 on a Graham Nicholson field goal.

Bryant then regrouped the unit, drove down the field seamlessly, and sliced the deficit to three with a touchdown. But when trying to turn that deficit into a lead in the early second quarter, Cincinnati coughed up the ball again to allow Miami’s offense a short field to operate. Following the turnover, Smith dumped it off to tight end Jack Coldiron, who provided the RedHawks a 17-7 lead. Unfortunately for head coach Chuck Martin and his team, those fumbles weren’t sustainable and were the only thing stopping the Cincinnati offense. Miami’s scoring was officially over for the remainder of the afternoon.

The reigning AAC champions rallied with 17 second quarter points to claim a 24-17 lead entering halftime. The offense calmed down the fireworks after that second quarter explosion, but Cincinnati steadily expanded the margin to 21 points after a 41-yard touchdown pass to deep threat Tyler Scott in the third quarter and a 15-yard touchdown scamper by Charles McClelland in the fourth.

Bryant, the former MAC standout, enjoyed a stellar outing at Paycor Stadium by completing 26-of-35 passes for 337 yards and a pair of touchdowns. Comparatively, Smith posted 116 yards and two touchdowns on a 9-of-21 showing against a relentless Cincinnati defense which has produced eight NFL draft picks in the past two seasons. One of those potential future professional stars is outside linebacker Ivan Pace Jr., who starred for the RedHawks from 2019-21. The former All-MAC selection led all Bearcats with eight tackles, providing substantial backfield pressure with a sack and two tackles for loss in the victory.

For Miami, Hippenhammer excelled in the early going with three of his four receptions on the first possession. But the RedHawks best all-around performance Saturday belonged to inside linebacker Ryan McWood. In his third game back from an injury which held him out in 2021, McWood produced 13 tackles and played a major hand in slowing down Cincinnati’s offense early on.

Although a double-digit lead was squandered by the RedHawks, chances to finally win back the Victory Bell are scheduled in Miami’s future. Even with the Bearcats moving to the Big 12 on July 1, 2023, the cross-town Ohio rivals are scheduled to square off as far ahead as 2029. But for now, the trophy remains stagnant in the shelves of the Cincinnati facilities.

After falling for the 16th consecutive time to its premier non-conference rival, Miami falls to 1-2 with an interesting matchup against Northwestern looming for Week 4. Meanwhile, Cincinnati improves to 2-1 with Indiana on the horizon next Saturday.