The University of Louisville lost its third straight football game Friday night, falling 28-20 to Cincinnati in front of 37,822 fans at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
The 22nd-ranked Bearcats outscored the Cardinals 14-3 in a steady rain in the second half.
"I want everybody to know I'm proud to be the coach of this team," UofL coach Steve Kragthorpe said to start off his post- game press conference. "Our guys showed a lot of heart and a lot of character.
"We're not winning games right now and that's on me. I get paid to win games and I'm not getting it done...don't blame the players, blame me."
Cincinnati (8-2, 4-1) claimed the Keg of Nails with the win, as well as first place in the Big East Conference. Meanwhile the loss dropped Louisville (5-5, 1-4), which was 5-2 after its upset of 14th-ranked South Florida on Oct. 25, into the Big East basement along with Syracuse.
"Penalties hurt us, miscues here and there, it wasn't anything behind the scenes it was all out front," said UofL quarterback Hunter Cantwell, who completed 19 of 35 passes for 204 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
The second half was the story of the game for the Cards. They mustered only 116 yards of offense, while being whistled for 46 yards worth of penalties.
UC outgained UofL for the game 405-324, including 186-116 after halftime. Bearcat quarterback Tony Pike completed 19 of 33 passes for 250 yards, two touchdowns and an interception. John Goebel and Jacob Ramsey each ran for scores for Cincy, while Dominick Goodman and Mardy Gilyard each had TD catches. Vic Anderson led Louisville with 60 rushing yards and a touchdown, while Doug Beaumont had four catches for 61 yards.
"You can't win games when you make that many mistakes and turnovers," said senior running back Brock Bolen, whose team had three fumbles and lost one.
Cincinnati didn't waste much time getting on the scoreboard first. The Bearcats scored on their first possession. On second-and-13 from the UofL 48 Pike hit Gilyard on a crossing pattern and the junior wideout did the rest. The reigning Big East Special Teams Player of the Week broke up the middle, then spun away from two would-be UofL tacklers on his way to the end zone.
The Cards tied the game at 7 late in the first quarter thanks to a little help from their defense, and Cincinnati.
First UofL's D stuffed Pike for a 1-yard loss on a fourth-and-1 try from the UC 29. Then two Bearcat penalties (pass interference and holding) helped set up Louisville with a first-and-goal at the 6. The Cards scored on Cantwell's 2-yard toss to senior fullback James Bryant.
UofL added a field goal on its next possession to take a 10-7 lead. The Cards drove 71 yards in 10 plays - the biggest a 38- yard completion from Cantwell to Beaumont - and Ryan Payne capped the march with a 23-yard kick.
Each team had a long TD drive, mostly via the run, in the second quarter. The Bearcats retook the lead on Ramsey's 1-yard TD run with 4:46 to play in the half. Ramsey rushed five times for 36 yards, highlighted by runs of 18 and 13 yards, on the 64-yard drive.
Anderson answered on UofL's ensuing possession. He broke off a big 37-yard run that later led to his 3-yard TD run to make it 17-14 Cards.
The crowd at Papa John's had two reasons to cheer late in the second quarter when first, the Virginia Military Institute- Kentucky men's basketball score was announced (VMI 111, UK 103), then UC's Jake Rogers missed a 34-yard field goal attempt at the horn.
UofL got a big boost from its defense, again, early in the second half when linebacker Jon Dempsey stripped Ramsey of the ball and recovered it at the UC 9. The turnover resulted in another 23-yard field goal by Payne to give the Cards a 20-14 lead.
Cincinnati could've closed to within three a few minutes later, but Rogers' 39-yard field goal try bounced off the right upright.
But the Bearcats made good the next time they had the ball. UC pinned the Cards deep in their own territory, then got an 18- yard punt return by DeAngelo Smith to have a first down at the UofL 32.
It took Cincy just two plays to score. The second was a perfect strike by Pike to a diving Goodman just beyond the reach of cornerback Woodny Turenne. Rogers' PAT gave UC a 21-20 lead.
The Cards had a chance to take the lead early in the fourth quarter, but Payne was short on a 45-yard field goal try - which was 11 yards longer than his career best.
The Bearcats pulled a rabbit out of their hat on their next possession, putting Dustin Grutza at quarterback. Grutza started the first two games of the season for UC before breaking his right fibula at Oklahoma. He quickly guided the Bearcats downfield and Goebel ran in from a 6-yard TD. The PAT made it 28-20 UC with 6:29 to play.
The biggest play on the drive was a 37-yard run by Goebel.
"We were still running around trying to get guys lined up," defensive tackle Adrian Grady said of that play. "There's a lot of times we shot ourselves in the foot."
UofL had two more possessions, but got nothing out of them. On the first Cantwell was stuffed on a fourth-and-1 from his own 35.
Then after Rogers missed his third field goal of the game UofL took over at its own 26 with 2:19 to play. But Cantwell threw four straight incompletions to end UofL's hopes.
The Cards host West Virginia at noon next Saturday in their final home game of the season before closing out the regular season Dec. 4 at Rutgers.
"We've got to be ready to beat West Virginia, that's all that can be in our minds," Cantwell said. "It's going be a big week of perseverance, we can't listen to what other people say."
"Our goal at this point and time is to win both games and get to that 13th game," Kragthorpe said.