EAST HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Brendon Kay threw two touchdown passes to Travis Kelce, and caught one from the big tight end on a trick play as Cincinnati beat Connecticut 34-17 on Saturday.
The win gives the Bearcats (9-3) a share of the Big East championship, along with Louisville, Rutgers and Syracuse, all of which ended the season with 5-2 conference records. Cincinnati’s two conference losses came to the Cardinals and Scarlet Knights and the Bearcats were not in the running for the conference’s Bowl Championship Series bowl berth.
Kelce caught five balls for 69 yards and the two scores. Kay completed 19 of his 29 passes for 245 yards and the two scores.
Chandler Whitmer threw for 264 yards and a touchdown for UConn (5-7, 2-5), before leaving the game with a head injury in the third quarter.
Kay hit Kelce for a 25-yard touchdown on the Bearcats’ opening drive, one of three passes of at least 25 yards during the six-play, 76-yard march.
Kelce returned the favor in the second quarter. An interception return by Chris Williams set the Bearcats up on the UConn 39. On first down, Kelce took a backward screen pass from Kay and threw the ball back across the field to his quarterback, who ran down the right side for a touchdown that made it 14-0.
Kay found Kelce from 21-yards out on the opening drive of the second half to give the Bearcats a 21-10 lead.
Kelce and Kay came into the program together as quarterbacks.
Connecticut tight end Ryan Griffin got the Huskies into the game in the second quarter with a 74-yard catch and run. He caught the ball on the UConn 35 and outran the Bearcats’ defense, diving into the end zone after almost being tripped up at the 6-yard line by Deven Drane. It was 14-10 at the half.
UConn freshman kicker Bobby Puyol made the first field goal of his career, a 40-yarder to give the Huskies their first points. That was set up when Chandler Whitmer found Michael Smith open over the middle for a 51-yard pass from the UConn 24-yard line. UConn’s regular kicker, Chad Christen, sat out the game with a hip injury.
Whitmer started for UConn despite being knocked out of last week’s win over Louisville with a head injury. He left this game in the third quarter after taking a shot from Greg Blair on a trick play and hitting his head on the turf.
Senior walk-on Johnny McEntee replaced Whitmer and completed the 15-play, 69-yard drive which ended with a 1-yard touchdown plunge by Lyle McCombs. It was the first second-half touchdown in a Big East game for UConn and brought the Huskies to within four at 21-17.
But a bad pass by McEntee that was intercepted by Drane set up another Bearcats touchdown, a 4-yard run by George Winn, his 12th touchdown this season. That came after Tony Miliano had made it a seven-point game, hitting a 38-yard field goal with 12 minutes left. His 42-yarder with 6 minutes left put a bow on the game.
McEntee finished with 73 yards passing and two interceptions.
Winn finished with just 70 yards rushing after coming in averaging 105 yards per game and 5.5 yards per carry. He had just 8 yards at the half.
Cincinnati gets a share of its fourth conference title in five years and the Bearcats will be going to their sixth bowl game in seven years.
Connecticut, which also lost to Cincinnati last season with bowl eligibility on the line, finished its second consecutive losing season since Paul Pasqualoni took over the program from Randy Edsall.
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