Fourth Quarter (Duke 34, Cincinnati 48):
Duke opened the fourth quarter the same way it ended the third: Throwing short passes for long gains. Although Renfree got the Blue Devils to the 5-yard line, it was Connette who took Duke into the end zone, on a 2-yard pass to David Reeves, putting the Blue Devils up 31-27 with 12:45 left in the game.
Cincinnati was not going to allow the momentum to completely shift in Duke’s favor, as Kay began the drive with a 35-yard pass to Travis Kelce. After a pass interference penalty against Duke, Kay connected with Chris Moore in the back left corner of the end zone for a 25-yard touchdown pass to put the Bearcats up 34-31 against the Blue Devils with 11:19 remaining in the game.
At this point in the game, it was truly a battle of quarterbacks, with Kay and Renfree each successfully leading their teams against the oppositions’ defense. The occasional rush by Duke allowed Renfree enough freedom to complete his midrange passes, as he would continue to do on the Blue Devils’ next drive.
After Renfree failed to complete a third-down pass, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe made the call to bring out kicker Ross Martin for 52-yard field goal. The freshman split the uprights with his kick and tied up the game, 34-34 with 7:24 left in the game.
Martin then came out and showed his leg strength once again, booting the ball deep into the end zone for a touchback, resulting in the Bearcats taking over at the 20-yard line.
The Blue Devils’ defense held strong once again, forcing a three-and-out for Cincinnati. Jamison Crowder provided Duke with an exciting return of 21 yards, almost breaking out into the open before a Bearcat defender tripped him up at the Cincinnati 43-yard line.
With Duke threatening within the redzone, Josh Snead took the ball up the middle and looked to have a crease before Brandon Mills collided with Snead, forcing the ball to come out at the six-yard line. John Williams of Cincinnati then jumped on the ball, giving the Bearcats the ball at the 6-yard line.
Brendon Kay then showed why he is so dangerous, after rushing for nine yards on the first play of the drive. It was two plays later that Kay struck a streaking Travis Kelce over the middle, going 83 yards for the touchdown and giving Cincinnati a 41-34 lead.
Duke looked to have an answer after a 13-yard completion from Renfree to Crowder and a roughing-the-passer penalty against the Bearcats. But it was Cincinnati’s defense that came up big in the end, when Renfree was hit by Malik Bomar, resulting in his pass being intercepted by linebacker Nick Temple and returned 55 yards for the game-clinching touchdown.
Third Quarter (Duke 24, Cincinnati 27): The Bearcats went directly to George Winn, in an attempt to take some pressure off of Kay. The signal-caller took advantage, scrambling for another third-down conversion. Kay then found his favorite target, McClung for a 55-yard pass to Duke’s 10-yard line. The play was lengthened by a roughing-the-passer penalty on the Blue Devils, putting the Bearcats at the 5-yard line. Duke’s defense held strong, stopping Cincinnati on the goal line, and forcing a false start penalty. Kay was sacked the next play by Anthony Young-Wiseman, forcing the Bearcats to settle for a 27-yard field goal, putting Cincinnati up 20-16.
Duke went back to the no-huddle offense, with Renfree doing his best to pick apart the Bearcats defense. He pushed his luck too far when he threw into double-coverage, looking for Thompson but instead finding Cincinnati safety Arryn Chenault who returned the interception 23 yards to the Cincinnati 43-yard line.
The Bearcats started off their drive with a reverse to McClung, who took the ball 14 yards for a Cincinnati first down. On the next play, Winn showed why he was the player to watch coming into the game, taking the handoff and running straight up the middle, mostly untouched, for a 46-yard touchdown.
The momentum was clearly in Cincinnati’s favor, as Duke only returned the following kickoff 12 yards to its 14-yardline. The Blue Devils, who ran successfully in the first quarter, could not find their rhythm in the rushing game, with many of the rushes going for fewer than five yards in the second half.
Renfree, aside from the earlier interception, completed the majority of his passes. He made up for his earlier double-coverage interception by dropping the ball between two defenders to Desmond Scott for 39-yards on a third-and-nine, and on the following play, throwing a laser to Connor Vernon for a 10-yard touchdown. The Blue Devils went for two, to pull the game within three, and converted on a cross-field pass from Renfree to Isaac Blakeney. Renfree rolled out to the right, pulling the entire defense with him, and threw back to the left corner of the end zone where Blakeney was standing alone.
Renfree went seven-for-seven and 79 yards and a touchdown, as well as completing the two-point conversion, on Duke’s 11-play, 86-yard drive to pull the Blue Devils within three, trailing 27-24.
Duke held the Bearcats to a three-and-out on their next drive, forcing them to punt the ball away to the Blue Devils, who would take over at their own 32-yard line.
Renfree and the Blue Devil offense put together a good drive before the quarter concluded, with a 12-yard run by Crowder and a pass interference call the following play, resulting in a 15-yard penalty against the Bearcats. The quarter ended with Renfree completing a pass to Vernon to move the Blue Devils to the Bearcats’ 37-yard line.
Second Quarter (Duke 16, Cincinnati 17): The Bearcats then allowed George Winn to pound away on the ground, with consecutive runs of nine and 20 yards. Kay converted a third down on a scramble, but the play was called back after a clipping penalty was called on Cincinnati. Duke took advantage of the Bearcats’ mistake. Justin Foxx sacked Kay for a loss of eight yards, forcing Cincinnati to punt the ball.
Cincinnati’s defense finally settled in during the second quarter, preventing the Blue Devils form gaining any large chunks of yardage as they had in the opening quarter. Much of Duke’s offensive production came through short dump passes to running backs and receivers, with most plays going for between four and seven yards.
Duke gave the Bearcats good field position after going for it on a fourth down once again, but failing to convert, resulting in Cincinnati taking over the ball at their own 46-yard line.
Cincinnati then went back to work on offense, with Kay finally connecting with his receivers for gains of 18 and 26 yards, with the latter being a touchdown over the middle to Anthony McClung. This completed a five-play, 54-yard drive for the Bearcats, taking only 2:04 off the clock
The Blue Devils started their next possession at their 26-yard line. On the first play, controversy was raised, as an incomplete pass to Desmond Scott was ruled an interception that resulted in a touchdown by Clemente Casseus. After further review, the officials overruled the call of an interception, but maintained an illegal blocking call on Duke’s Renfree during the Cincinnati return.
Duke punter Will Monday may have had the play of the quarter on the next down, when he booted a punt 79 yards to the Cincinnati 2-yard line. Punt returner Anthony McClung watched the ball skim close to the sideline for 15 yards before taking a bounce towards the center of the field right in front of the Bearcats goal line.
Kay did not let the poor field position bother him, as he ran the ball for 25 yards on a third-and-9 from his own three. After an incomplete pass, Kay completed a 31-yard pass to Anthony McClung to put the Bearcats at the Duke 41. The next play, Kay delivered a bomb to Ralph Abernathy for a 41-yard touchdown pass, putting Cincinnati up 17-16. The drive took only six plays and 1:46 off the clock while covering 98 yards.
Duke put together a nice drive to end the half. It was thought to have ended with a 54-yard field goal by Ross Martin, but the play was ruled dead due to a Cincinnati penalty for illegal substitution. Martin got another chance to kick, this time from 48 yards out, but missed wide left by a matter of inches.
First quarter (Duke 16, Cincinnati 3): Duke jumped on the Bearcats from the opening kickoff, starting the Belk Bowl with a decisive 8-play, 79 yard drive which was capped by a five-yard touchdown run by Brandon Connette. The extra-point was blocked by the Bearcats and was nearly run in for a two-point conversion by kicker Ross Martin.
Cincinnati quarterback Brandon Kay entered the game looking to continue the success he had coming into the contest, but was held by Duke’s defense to six yards on five completions.
The Bearcats tried to utilize star running back George Winn early, but it took 8 minutes before he had any success against the Blue Devils. Duke’s defense held the Bearcats to a three-and-out on their first drive, taking over on their own 40-yard line after a 26-yard punt by Cincinatti’s Pat O’Donnel.
Duke stuck to the run throughout the first quarter, eventually opening up the air for Renfree. The Blue Devils’ three-headed rushing attack proved successful, as Duncan, Snead and Thompson put up 72 yards rushing in the first period, complimenting Renfree’s 94 yards through the air.
After converting on a fourth-and-one, the Blue Devils were forced to settle for a field goal, with Ross Martin converting from 33 yards out.
On Cincinnati’s next drive, the Blue Devils forced a punt, which was then blocked by Tony Foster, who chased down and dove on the ball down in the end zone to put Duke up 16-0 with 4:45 left in the quarter.
Cincinnati’s offense found life in its next drive, covering 50 yards in 8 plays, but was forced to settle for a 45-yard field goal after Kay’s toss to the end zone went incomplete.