When the fifth-ranked Bearcats went down 31-10 against Pittsburgh, it seemed all was lost. The Big East title and any faint National Championship hopes were on the ropes. A season of amazing highs and historical firsts was in jeopardy of crashing in flames.
Then Mardy Gilyard took over the game and saved his team's season. His performance in Cincinnati's 45-44 victory over the Panthers sealed their second straight Big East championship. All season long, the Cats looked to him for big plays in big spots. In the biggest game of their season, perhaps program history, he made those big plays.
It started with with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to make it 31-17 entering halftime. That was just the spark his teammates needed. "I prayed that I could take one back," Gilyard said. "And then everything parted like the Red Sea."
The third quarter only produced one score. Again, it was Gilyard who made the big play. His 66-yard touchdown reception cut the Pittsburgh lead to 31-24. It was like everyone in Heinz Field knew he was getting the ball. It was stopping him once he got the ball which was the problem.
He continued in the fourth quarter with another big kickoff return (42 yards to the Panther 23). Three plays later, QB Tony Pike found Gilyard to covert a third and four. Next thing you know, the Bearcats trailed by one. Oh by the way, he did have the game-tying two-point conversion.
On the game-winning drive, he caught the last two of his five receptions setting up the Pike-Binns TD strike for the win and title.
In all, Gilyard had twelve touches for 374 total yards (118 receiving, school-record 256 return) and three touchdowns. His performance was amazing for a single game. Add to the fact he did it in a snowstorm on a national stage with everything on the line. All you can say is AMAZING.
Cincinnati will be playing on January 1 and they can thank No. 1 for that.