Seniors are true heroes of the turnaround of the Cincinnati Bearcats, says coach Luke Fickell

CINCINNATI – The senior University of Cincinnati soccer players have experienced a roller coaster ride of emotions throughout their careers at Bearcats. When they stood on the lawn of the Nippert Stadium before the regular season finale on Friday and were honored, these 14 represented a turbulent and transitional phase in the history of the program.

The future at Clifton is bright and it was this senior class that helped set the stage.

“I owe them everything,” said sophomore coach Luke Fickell. “Without these guys, we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are.”

Several of this year’s seniors were on the field in 2015 to claim the resounding win over Miami, Florida that raised expectations only to see Tommy Tuberville’s ugly exit and Ohio state’s penultimate take-off of Fickell a year later .

Back to Back 4-8 ​​Seasons put the five 10-plus-win seasons and the Orange and Sugar Bowl berths in the rearview mirror under Brian Kelly and Butch Jones in six years. But all of that changed this year under Fickell and with the way the seniors took the younger players under their wing.

“There’s no way you can bring the little kids without these boys,” Fickell said. “If our goals as the coaching staff had been bitter, it wouldn’t have looked like that.”

On Friday, the Bearcats finished their seventh season with 10 wins in school history and, for the first time since 2012, with a 56-6 win over East Carolina. Next up is her first bowl game since 2015.

“Right now you’re seeing the 10 wins, but it’s that relationship and bond that we’ve built here,” said Cortez Broughton, senior defensive tackle. “I get chills just thinking about it.”

The Bearcats (10-2, 6-2 American Conference) started the season among the nation’s youngest teams. Seventy-two percent of their list was lower-class, including 35 real newbies.

A season opening win at UCLA triggered a 6-0 start. The only blemishes were an overtime loss in Temple and a loss in Central Florida to number 11 in prime time.

Fickell credits the seniors with the turnaround this season. The older players say it has more to do with the character of the players Fickell recruited during his two years at the top.

“To see the young people come in and really care about the program, not only do they stay for the mandated hours, they do the extra work,” said Garrett Campbell, lead offensive lineman. “Boys care a lot more.”

Fickell said no older player exemplified that more than fifth year quarterback Hayden Moore.

Moore started all 12 games last season and set career marks with 2,562 yards and 20 touchdowns but was bypassed by Desmond Ridder after the Redshirt freshman came off the bench to lead UC to a win of the season at UCLA.

“I said (Moore and Ridder) from the start when we didn’t know who our quarterback was. I said their ability to put the team above them will be the biggest factor in our locker room,” said Fickell. “The strength of this program is the selfless commitment of a man like Hayden Moore.”

An ankle injury cost Moore five games in his second season. As a Redshirt freshman, he played eight games, including 22 of 33 passes for 279 yards and two touchdowns in defeating the Hurricanes. But Moore was able to keep his starting role for his final season.

Moore passed for 59 yards and a touchdown and rushed on mop-up for another 20 yards on Friday. Fickell has commended Moore year-round for the work he did on the sidelines, and he did it all over again.

“Hayden Moore’s ability to prepare Desmond for not just this game but the whole year was enormous,” said Fickell. “The guys who were out tonight made sure that whoever stands in for them makes a difference in this game. I’m particularly proud of that, not the 56 points or the 10 victories. “

Injury-ridden Bearcats did a quick job of the pirates despite the lack of some players, including the rewind from Michael Warren II.

Ridder’s 10-yard touchdown pass to Jayshon Jackson made a 75-yard drive to start the game. In the first quarter, Ridder was 11 of 14, overtaking 206 yards and three touchdowns when the Bearcats took a 21-0 lead.

In the Bearcats’ first offensive game after a fiddly recovery, Charles McClelland drove 55 yards for a touchdown to score the 28-0 and give fans the rest of the afternoon to complete their Black Friday shopping.

Ridder was 20 of 29, going career-high for 335 yards and four touchdowns in the first half. The Bearcats had a total of 454 yards and led 42-6 in half. ECU was lucky enough to be that close.

On Senior Day, senior wide receiver Khalil Lewis shone with nine catches for 203 yards and three TDs. It is the fifth most yards in a game for a UC player since Marcus Barnett had 210 yards against West Virginia in 2007.

CONNECTED: Bowl projections for bearcats

The Bearcats will begin preparations for the bowl game next week in hopes of scoring a loss in three games. UC’s last bowl win was 48-34 against Duke in the Belk Bowl in 2012. The Bearcats’ last bowl appearance wasn’t nice, a 42-7 loss to San Diego State in the Hawaii Bowl.

The Bearcats seniors said during preseason training that they wanted to go out with a bang this season, and they did.

“It’s the cherry on top,” said Campbell. “I couldn’t be happier to be part of this program after going through all the ups and downs and everything in between.”

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