Seconds after the gun sounded to end No. 22 Cincinnati's soggy 28-20 win over Louisville on Friday, several Bearcats sprinted to the end zone and grabbed the Keg of Nails, the trophy that had tormented them for years.
This was one keg party coach Brian Kelly had no plans of interrupting. Besides, for the surging Bearcats the good times might just be starting.
``I think we can all say the rivalry is back,'' Kelly said. ``There was a lot of emotion out on the field in this game.''
Cincinnati dominated the reeling Cardinals in the second half to win the keg for the first time in six years and take another major step toward its first Big East title.
The victory gives Cincinnati (8-2, 4-1) a half-game lead over idle West Virginia and No. 21 Pittsburgh in the conference title race. Cincinnati beat the Mountaineers last week and host the Panthers on Nov. 22.
``The next game is the biggest game,'' said Cincinnati cornerback Mike Mickens, who added to his school record with the 14th interception of his career. ``Beating Pitt is the next task.''
Dominick Goodman caught nine passes for 134 yards and a touchdown for Cincinnati and John Goebel ran for 77 yards and a score as the Bearcats won the Keg of Nails for the first time since 2002.
``It means a lot for this program to come in here and win the Keg of Nails,'' Goodman said. ``We'd like to keep it for a long, long time.''
The way the Bearcats are playing these days, they just might.
Quarterback Tony Pike, who took over the starting job earlier this year when senior Dustin Grutza went down with a broken leg, completed 19 of 33 passes in soggy conditions before getting knocked out in the fourth quarter with an undisclosed injury.
Enter Grutza, who hadn't played since breaking his right leg during a 52-26 loss to Oklahoma on Sept. 6.
If Grutza felt rusty, he didn't show it.
Walking onto the field in steady rain, Grutza quickly led the Bearcats on a five-play, 72-yard touchdown drive that gave the Bearcats a 28-20 lead with 6:29 to play.
The key play was a 24-yard pass to Goodman on third-and-5 that moved the ball to the Louisville 43. Goebel did the rest, zipping 37 yards up the left side on the next play before going in from the 6 for the score.
It was more than enough to hold off the mistake-prone Cardinals (5-5, 1-4), who have lost three straight for the first time since 1997.
``We're not winning football games, and that's on me,'' said Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe.
Hunter Cantwell threw for 204 yards and a touchdown but also was stuffed on a fourth-down sneak at the Louisville 35 with less than 4 minutes to go. The Bearcats couldn't extend the lead as Jake Rogers missed his third field goal of the game.
No matter, as the Bearcats forced Cantwell into four straight incompletions to beat their rivals for just the second time in 11 tries.
``Coming in I told our team we had to beat Louisville to be Big East champs,'' Kelly said. ``We had to draw the line somewhere.''
Louisville, hoping to erase a nightmarish loss to Pittsburgh last week, took a 17-14 lead into the half and had a perfect opportunity to take command after linebacker Jon Dempsey recovered a fumble at the Cincinnati 9.
But three plays netted just 3 yards and Louisville settled for a field goal to go up 20-14.
It wasn't nearly enough.
Goodman gave the Bearcats a 21-20 lead with 6:38 to play in the third quarter on a beautiful 23-yard touchdown grab, laying out parallel to the ground and holding onto the ball as he slid across the wet turf in the end zone.
The score was the 21st receiving touchdown of Goodman's career, tying the school record held by Jim O'Brien.
Louisville freshman running back Victor Anderson ran for 60 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game in the third quarter after sustaining a helmet-to-helmet hit from Cincinnati defensive lineman Adam Hoppel Goebel.
The Cardinals had their chances, but kept self-destructing behind penalties and questionable playcalling. Louisville was flagged six times for 46 yards, all in the second half. Even worse, most of those wiped out solid gains or ruining scoring opportunities.
The most damaging came after the Cardinals had moved to the Cincinnati 15 with 10 minutes to play. A holding call on first down pushed them back 10 yards. Two runs and a delay of game ended up pushing them back another 3 yards and Ryan Payne's 45-yard field-goal attempt to take the lead was woefully short.
``We can't make those types of errors,'' Kragthorpe said. ``When you do that, it's tougher to win the football game.''
Grutza and Cincinnati's defense took over from there, allowing the Bearcats to keep their hopes of a conference title and the school's first Bowl Championship Series berth alive.
``We haven't beaten (Pitt),'' Goodman said. ``So we'll be hungry for that one too.''
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