Sunday, September 05, 1999

UC 41, KENT 7

Opening victory helps erase pain of '98

The Cincinnati Enquirer

Jason Collin-Baker out runs Kent's Abdur Khan for a TD.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        They put up poll-climbing numbers against the sort of opponent usually rented for such an occasion, but the Cincinnati Bearcats will not be popping up in the college football rankings anytime soon. That is a long way off.

        After UC's laughably smooth 41-3 victory over Kent in the season opener Saturday night at Nippert Stadium, though, the debacle of 1998 seemed even further away.

        “We were extremely confused last year,” said wideout Jason Collins-Baker, “because we felt we were a better team. I think this exemplified how hard we worked in the offseason and how committed we were to changing the image.”

        This is a 1-0 team. The Bearcats, who ended last season 2-9, hadn't been on the fair side of .500 in 22 months. They held Kent to 124 yards, 190 less than the worst of UC's opponents gained a year ago.

Ashley Hurt (87) and P.J. Mays celebrate after hurt made a TD.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Quarterback Deontey Kenner expertly executed UC's retooled offense, his ballhandling and composure against the rush as impressive as his 21-of-25 passing for 249 yards and three touchdowns. He gained his first career rushing touchdown, which was the Bearcats' fifth score, then was permitted to rest through most of the fourth quarter.

        Running backs Robert Cooper and P.J. Mays both punished the Kent defense. Cooper gained 76 yards in the first half before Mays relieved and ran for 98. Fullback Lloyd Garden got the final UC touchdown.

        Collins-Baker caught five passes for 104 yards. Tight end Ashley Hunt caught two touch down passes and had six catches, which was extraordinary because he caught only six passes all last season.

        Of course, all of this was done to Kent, which is to say, the Bearcats did not explore new territory. The Golden Flashes (0-1) have lost their last 14 games and never put that streak in jeopardy against UC.

Kent's Joel Reikowski dives on top of a ball.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        And all of it was done before an audience announced at 17,270 in a stadium that seats 35,000, which made it difficult for the Bearcats to share the joy of a (for now) unbeaten season.

        “Every game, I can assure you, we will not be this dominant,” said coach Rick Minter. “That's not reality.

        “At this point, it doesn't matter what type of confidence it is. It's like puppy love. You say it doesn't mean much, but it means something to the puppies.”

        The one obvious problem that developed was pass-blocking, which Minter anticipated with veteran guard Ken Biggs out for the year with a shoulder injury and so many younger players on the offensive line.

P.J. Mays moves the ball down the field.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Kenner was sacked once in the first quarter for a 9-yard loss, but that's only three less than the Kent defense produced all last year. And there were plenty of situations in which Kenner was struck hard just after his release.

        “Everybody made mistakes,” Kenner said, not exempting himself from that statement. “There's always breakdowns. You've got to stand in there and take a shot every now and then.”

        His production was not affected. The first two times the Bearcats handled the ball, he led them toward touchdown passes. The first was the result of a fumble by Kent back DeMarlo Rozier on the first play from scrimmage, which was recovered by linebacker Troy Evans.

        That put Kenner in position to deliver his first scoring pass, a 12-yarder off a play-action to Hunt. UC led 6-0. Kicker Joe Judge banged the extra point off the upright.

        The Bearcats stretched their lead to 13-3 when Kenner hit wideout Jason Collins-Baker with a 55-yard touchdown pass.


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- UC 41, KENT 7
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