ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) – As the ball came bouncing out of Gunner Kiel’s hands, the Cincinnati quarterback – and any hope the Bearcats had of winning the Military Bowl – crashed hard onto the artificial turf.
A woozy Kiel left the game after the last of his three turnovers, and Cincinnati’s season ended Saturday with a 33-17 loss to Virginia Tech.
Kiel exited in the third quarter during a play that essentially snapped the Bearcats’ seven-game winning streak and assured Virginia Tech (7-6) a 22nd consecutive winning season.
Deon Clarke sacked Kiel and forced a fumble at the Cincinnati 43. Nigel Williams picked up the ball and fumbled at the 12, where teammate Greg Stroman scooped it up and took it into the end zone for a 27-10 lead.
Kiel remained down for several minutes and was helped off the field before being taken to the locker room. The 6-foot-4 sophomore did not return, and without him Cincinnati (9-4) had little chance to mount a comeback.
”He’s been banged around pretty much this year. That was a good, clean lick,” Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville said. ”I think his head hit the ground. This turf is not made for collisions like that. He’s fine. He’s a little dizzy and not very clear. He probably could have come back and done a few things, but further injury (at) that point is really not worth it.”
With backup Munchie Legaux nursing a knee injury that will require surgery, Cincinnati turned to senior walk-on Michael Colosimo, who threw a touchdown pass but had too big a deficit to overcome against too good a team.
”We didn’t play well but Virginia Tech did,” Tuberville said. ”They took advantage of our miscues and pretty much put it out of reach early in the third quarter.”
Kiel went 14 for 26 for 244 yards, but had two interceptions to go with his fumble. The Notre Dame transfer finished the season with 3,254 yards passing, the third-highest total in school history.
Michael Brewer went 14 for 24 for 94 yards and a touchdown to guide the Hokies to their highest point total since a 34-17 win at North Carolina on Oct. 4.
Virginia Tech coach Frank Beamer worked in the upstairs coaching box to avoid the risk of infection during his recovery from throat surgery. The Hokies were making their 22nd consecutive bowl appearance under Beamer, whose last losing season at Tech was in 1992.
”I have had many proud moments in my time at Virginia Tech but this is one of my proudest,” Beamer said. ”When you consider the constant adversity we have had to endure this season, it is just rewarding that we believed in one another and continued to fight our way through it.”
The Hokies opened the second half with a 75-yard drive for a touchdown and a 20-10 lead. Coleman opened the possession with four carries for 43 yards before Brewer tossed a TD pass to tight end Ryan Malleck on third-and-goal from the 1.
Minutes later, Kiel’s fumble enabled the many Virginia Tech fans among the crowd of 34,277 to breathe easier.
”I love it when they call a blitz,” Clarke said. ”I had an open shot at him and when I hit him, I was able to knock the ball loose.”
Freshman Joey Slye kicked four field goals for the Hokies, who finally got a noteworthy victory to add to their upset at Ohio State on Sept. 6.
”We had two objectives that we wanted to accomplish today,” Virginia Tech offensive coordinator Scot Loeffler said. ”We wanted to win for our seniors, and we wanted to win for Coach Beamer.”
Virginia Tech led 13-10 at halftime despite a 307-148 deficit in yardage.
The Hokies picked off two passes and Slye kicked field goals of 45 and 49 yards, the latter coming on the final play of the half.
Kiel threw for 179 yards in the first quarter, including a 40-yarder to Shaq Washington on the game’s first play. But the drive ended with a missed field goal.
Kiel threw for 84 yards in an 89-yard drive later in the quarter that ended with a 31-yard TD pass to Rod Moore.
Virginia Tech answered with a 1-yard touchdown run by Coleman. The Hokies successfully executed a trick play during the possession when Brewer caught a 30-yard pass from freshman wide receiver Isaiah Ford.
Kiel’s second interception led to a Virginia Tech field goal. Late in the half, Kiel directed an 86-yard drive that produced a field goal for a temporary tie.