CINCINNATI, Ohio -- A controversial replay reversal changed the course of Friday night's contest at Nippert Stadium, and No. 5 Cincinnati benefitted, taking control in the second half and holding on for a 24-21 win over West Virginia.

That call by the officials in the booth reversed what was originally ruled a fumble on the field by Bearcats running back Isaiah Pead. Mountaineer defensive lineman Chris Neild had recovered at his team's 1-yard line, seemingly ending a scoring threat.

However, upon review, officials determined that Pead had extended the ball over the goal line before losing control. Instead of WVU having a 14-7 lead with the ball, the game was tied at 14-14 and momentum had shifted.

That pleased a record crowd of 35,105 at the fourth-oldest stadium in college football, but Mountaineer head coach Bill Stewart but opted to choose his words carefully after the loss.

"I am going to save that [opinion on the replay reversal] for the Big East," Stewart said. "[The officials] are professional men. They called that the way they saw it."

While West Virginia had an advantage for a period of time in the first half, it was the home team that started quickly out of the gates.

The Mountaineers went three-and-out on their opening drive, and UC's potent offense wasted little time in lighting up the scoreboard for the first time.

The Bearcats needed to convert on only one third down attempt on their 9 play, 73-yard drive that took only 2:57. It was punctuated when quarterback Tony Pike entered for his first play since injuring his arm against South Florida and threw a nine-yard scoring pass to Armon Binns, giving the hosts a quick 7-0 lead.

It appeared as though the momentum would continue for UC, as West Virginia managed only four plays before being forced to punt the ball on its ensuing possession.

But after quarterback Zach Collaros found a wide open Adrien Robinson on the second play of his team's drive, the UC tight end coughed up the ball. Sidney Glover pounced on it at the Bearcats' 49-yard line to give the the Mountaineers good field position.

Seven plays later, Jarrett Brown ran in from eight yards out to tie the game. The drive was kept alive when the quarterback found Jock Sanders for a 13-yard completion on third-and-7.

Even that positive showing was quickly followed by an embarrassing sequence. WVU committed a total of three penalties on two kickoff attempts following the touchdown. Cincinnati accepted calls of illegal formation on both of those tries, and ultimately started its drive at its own 49-yard line.

That mattered little in the end, as the Mountaineer defense took advantage of a personal foul penalty to hold the Bearcats to a three-and-out.

On the first Cincinnati play after the Mountaineers punted on their ensuing possession, Pead rushed for 52 yards to the WVU 23-yard line. The drive stalled there, however, and Jacob Rogers' 34-yard field goal was no good to keep the contest tied.

Eight plays and 80 yards later, the visitors had the lead. Brown had completions of 24 and 13 yards to Bradley Starks and Wes Lyons, respectively, to put his team in position. On third-and-2 from the UC 37-yard line, Ryan Clarke ran in for a score.

The play came with West Virginia lined up in a jumbo package. Clarke found a hole along the left side of the line and burst through largely untouched for the touchdown, giving his team a 14-7 advantage with 8:05 left in the half.

The ensuing kickoff was once again an adventure, as Mardy Gilyard (who returned the game-opening kickoff for a touchdown against WVU last season in Morgantown) brought the ball back to the Mountaineers' 42-yard line after his 48-yard return.

UC managed to overcome a personal foul penalty that left its offense facing a first-and-25 situation, converting with a pair of 13-yard plays -- a pass from Collaros to Binns and a rush by Collaros -- that put the offense in position at the WVU 3-yard line.

On the next play, Pead rushed and came close to pay-dirt before losing the ball. Chris Neild recovered the apparent fumble, but upon review, officials ruled that the tip of the ball had crossed the plane of the goal line before Pead lost control.

Instead of West Virginia getting the ball back at its own 1-yard line, Cincinnati was credited with a touchdown on the play, tying the score at 14-14. That would be the tally at the halftime intermission after a WVU punt and an interception thrown by Collaros.

This game recap presented by The Book Exchange

The Bearcats seemed to claim momentum out of the locker room, duplicating their lightning-fast start to the first half with a 10 play, 64-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown pass from Pike to D.J. Woods. UC led 21-14.

Pike entered for Collaros once more once the latter quarterback drove his team to the Mountaineers' 6-yard line. The Steubenville, Ohio native had completions of 11 and 22 yards on the drive to put his team in position before Pike took over.

After two possessions for each team ended in punts, West Virginia took over with 11:23 remaining at its own 20-yard line.

Brown showed flashes of the form he had displayed before suffering a concussion against Marshall on the drive, rushing for 10 yards on a broken second-and-eight play and later converting a third-and-12 play with a 24-yard run on yet another broken play.

That effort, which put WVU in position at the Bearcats' 26-yard line, would be the last first down of the drive.

After a Brown pass fell incomplete on second-and-nine from the 25-yard line, Stewart informed offensive coordinator Jeff Mullen that he would be going for the conversion on any fourth down that would result.

A rush between the tackles by Sanders gained a mere yard on third down, and Brown had to escape pressure on fourth-and-eight before throwing a desperate attempt into the end zone in the direction of Starks. The toss fell harmlessly to the red turf and UC took over on downs.

Stewart said that the decision to go make that position on the field four-down territory was based on the struggles of his defense, which allowed the Bearcats to gain 437 yards of total offense.

"It would have been a tough time stopping them," said the second-year head coach, who claimed he was prepared to go for a 2-point conversion and the win if his team had scored a touchdown on the drive.

"We hadn't stopped them that much all night. I'll live with that. I would make the same decision in that situation again."

Stewart's strategy was at least partially vindicated by the success UC had after obtaining the ball via the turnover on downs.

On the ensuing play, Pead rushed 44 yards to the WVU 33-yard line. The home team still managed to burn 3:20 of clock on the drive despite gaining only 13 yards from that point. Kelly and company added a 38-yard field goal from Rogers, giving Cincinnati a 24-14 lead with only 2:08 remaining.

Brown engineered a quick seven play, 64-yard drive that ended in a 3-yard scoring toss to Starks and drew WVU to within a field goal at 24-21, but Josh Lider's onside kick attempt was recovered by the Bearcats, ending the threat.

"We played the fifth-ranked team in the country right off their feet, very much like last year," Stewart said.

"That was one heck of a college football game. We came out on the short end. That's very evident to see. We hate that. That is one that is going to stay with me for a long, long time and with our seniors forever. Our team will just have to take this in stride as a growing and learning experience."

For Cincinnati, Collaros was 17-of-24 passing for 205 yards and an interception. Pike completed two of his four attempts in limited duty, throwing for 16 yards and a pair of touchdowns.

Pead was the star of the night, rushing for 175 yards on only 18 carries -- a staggering 9.7 yards per rush average. He had one touchdown to go with long non-scoring runs of 52 and 44 yards.

For West Virginia (7-3, 3-2), Brown ended the game 17-of-25 for 188 yards and a touchdown. He added 34 yards rushing and another score on eight carries.

Devine had 88 yards on his 25 attempts -- an average of a mere 3.5 yards per carry. Stewart said afterwards that the running back was playing with ankle, hip and hamstring injuries.

Clarke had 60 yards on only five attempts.

With the win, Cincinnati has its best start in program history at 10-0. After hosting Illinois on the Friday after Thanksgiving, the Bearcats will play in a de facto conference title game when they travel to No. 12 Pittsburgh on Dec. 5.

The winner of that game will claim the conference crown and the BCS bowl bid that goes with it, no matter what else happens down the stretch.

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