The Victory Bell is the traveling rivalry trophy which connects two neighboring universities in the longest ongoing non-conference rivalry in college football, first crossing paths in 1888. The trophy — a replica of a bell which belonged in Harrison Hall on Miami University’s campus in Oxford, OH — is dually painted.
One side is white with red lettering, representing the Miami (OH) RedHawks. The other side is black with white lettering, representing the Cincinnati Bearcats. Each side of the traveling rivalry trophy lists all the years each respective university claimed superiority in the rivalry.
But the traveling rivalry trophy remained stationary for quite some time, and only one color of paint was needed to make annual updates to the bell. In 2006, the Victory Bell became property of the Cincinnati Bearcats. That bell became a fixture in Cincinnati’s trophy case, maintaining its position for 17 years as the Bearcats won 16 consecutive matchups over Miami (OH) through the 2022 season.
On Saturday night at Nippert Stadium, the trophy finally made its long-awaited return to Oxford. As road underdogs, the RedHawks snapped the series-high 16-game streak, and snatched that trophy from the Bearcats in a 31-24 overtime thriller. Last time Miami claimed the Victory Bell was 2005 when Cincinnati spent its inaugural season in the Big East. This time, the RedHawks reclaimed the same bell during the Bearcats’ inaugural season in the Big 12.
In the final minute of regulation, the bell appeared destined to spend another year in Cincinnati. The Bearcats invaded the red zone and elected to run clock, relying on Carter Brown to sink a game-winning 35-yard field goal attempt. The Arizona State transfer was 3-for-3 on the evening and 6-for-6 on the season, nailing several 40+ yarders in previous wins. But this seemingly automatic attempt was rejected by RedHawks cornerback Yahsyn McKee, extending the game to an all-important overtime.
Miami’s offense took the field first and quarterback Brett Gabbert wasted no time capitalizing on the team’s renewed life. He connected with wide receiver Joe Wilkins Jr. for an 8-yard touchdown to catapult his team to a 31-24 lead. Cincinnati earned a crack at tying the game and immediately set up shop near the goal line. But the RedHawks defense stuffed every play idea the Bearcats had, until a do-or-die 4th and 2 situation arose.
In front of a stunned and silent crowd decked in black, Miami’s defense delivered the punishing blow. McKee, the same player who blocked the field goal, intercepted Cincinnati quarterback Emory Jones on the critical play, officially ringing in the victory at a shaken Nippert Stadium.
It was only fitting the game came down to a goal line stand courtesy of the Miami defense, because the RedHawks’ resilience with their back against their end zone was a recurring theme throughout the night. It started in the first quarter when Miami forced a turnover on downs at the 3-yard line, preventing Cincinnati from capitalizing on Gabbert’s lone interception of the night. But it sustained throughout the contest, as Brown sunk field goals of 28, 23, and 23 yards — a testament to how the Bearcats consistently struggled to finish drives upon reaching the red zone.
The rivalry game was filled with twists and turns and defensive playmaking at the least expected moments. One prime example of this was when Miami linebacker Corban Hondru intercepted Jones with one minute before halftime. The RedHawks looked to expand upon a 14-13 lead with possession on the Cincinnati 22-yard line, but one play later, they fumbled the ball back to the Bearcats. Another example was in the fourth quarter when Miami established a 1st and goal from the 4-yard line. The Bearcats defense reciprocated the damage the RedHawks defense inflicted by the goal line all night, and limited Miami to a 20-yard field goal to tie the game at 24 apiece with 5:10 remaining.
In a tie 24-24 ballgame, another chaotic moment unexpectedly swung the momentum. Cincinnati appeared to punt the ball away to the RedHawks with under 3:30 left, but the Bearcats called a gutsy fake punt on a 4th and 9 from their own 26, and head coach Scott Satterfield’s gamble paid off for a 27-yard pickup. Ultimately, it amounted to zero points thanks to the blocked field goal, but it prevented Miami from winning in regulation.
Gabbert, despite being a five-year starting quarterback for the RedHawks, only made his second start against Cincinnati and his first since 2019 on Saturday night. The quarterback efficiently posted 229 yards on 11 completions, connecting with FBS receiving yards leader Gage Larvadain for a 79-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage and again with Javon Tracy in the second quarter.
Other notable performances in the rivalry win included the efforts of outside linebacker Matt Salopek, defensive end Brian Ugwu, and safety Jacquez Warren. Salopek was a tackling machine as usual, chipping in 17 stops to prevent a bevy of first downs. Warren added 11 tackles while operating on the back end and Ugwu caused the most havoc against Cincinnati’s offensive line, chipping in one sack, 1.5 tackles for loss, and 10 tackles in the upset.
The MAC defeated two Big 12 teams on Saturday. Before Miami stunned Cincinnati in the nightcap, Ohio took care of Iowa State in the early slate in a 10-7 defensive slugfest. It was the RedHawks’ first-ever win over a Big 12 opponent since the conference formed in 1996, and Sept. 16, 2023 marked the second day in history where the MAC registered multiple wins over Big 12 competition (Ohio defeated Kansas and Central Michigan defeated Oklahoma State on Sept. 10, 2016).
After fervent celebration for one of the most significant wins of the 10-year long Chuck Martin era, Miami can finally paint that Victory Bell with the year “2023” and flaunt that trophy until the crosstown rivals meet again.