Sunday, September 26, 1999

Score says loss, but this was a victory

The Cincinnati Enquirer

        COLUMBUS — Rick Minter has missed the point. He is too close to his team to put it in perspective, too goal-oriented for his own good.

        The University of Cincinnati football coach and curmugeon left Ohio Stadium Saturday with an acute sense of loss and nearly no appreciation of progress. He is one of those unhappy men who can't smell the roses without picking up the scent of the fertilizer.

        “We did not come in here for a moral victory,” Minter said after Ohio State beat the Bearcats, 34-20. “Nor do we feel like we earned one. This hurts as much as the Troy State loss.”

        Silly man. UC football gained more validation, credibility and respect through Saturday's defeat than could have been won in a century of Humanitarian Bowl triumphs. Fresh from their landmark upset of Wisconsin, the Bearcats strutted into Woody Hayes' old stomping grounds and knocked the mighty Buckeyes back on their big-time heels.

        It didn't last — maybe it couldn't last — but for a while it was the fulfillment of every UC football fantasy. When Deontey Kenner turned a quarterback draw into a 35-yard touchdown early in the second quarter, the Bearcats seized a stunning 17-3 lead.

        UC cornerback Bobby Fuller counseled his teammates not to let the moment go to their heads. Jason Ott, the chagrined Ohio State linebacker from Elder High, wondered when he'd be able to go home again.

        Retrospect says the OSU comeback was probably inevitable. The Buckeyes have too much speed at the skill positions not to exploit some of it. But for a few surreal moments, the Bearcats could look at the scoreboard, consider themselves worthy of the Buckeyes' best shot and contemplate a place in the national polls. If there was not a victory in this, then there is not much value to college football.

        “When we got up 17-3, the first thing I did was look for my parents,” said Doug Rosfeld, the UC center. “To hear the band playing our fight song — at Ohio State — and to hear the Buckeye fans booing, it was a great feeling ... Two weeks ago, we walked into the Wisconsin game saying, "Can I? Can I?' After this game, you're telling yourself, "I can. I should.'”

        Because the Bearcats gained 525 yards from scrimmage Saturday, their post-game pride was tempered by frustration. Minter's spread-the-field strategy produced numerous coverage mismatches and minimized the danger of lining up toe-to-toe with a team UC couldn't expect to beat with brute force. Were it not for some blown coverage against Ohio State's passing game, the Bearcats might have gone to the wire with a chance to win.

        “There wasn't a doubt in our minds that we could play with them,” said UC safety Tinker Keck. “It was just the big plays they were getting that hurt ... They've got the best athletes in the country and we just didn't adjust.”

        No amount of adjustments, however, can compensate for a disparity in speed. Some of the Buckeyes' big plays were simply the result of extraordinary athletes — notably Ken-Yon Rambo and Reggie Germany — outrunning ordinary athletes. A quarterback more accurate than OSU's Steve Bellisari (eight completions in 22 attempts) probably puts up a lot of points with this team.

        History may conclude that the Bearcats were lucky to catch the Buckeyes in a down season; that Minter's infusion of junior college talent temporarily leveled the playing field while John Cooper was caught in a youth movement; that the score of the game was an inadequate measure of the relative power of the programs.

        Here in the Instant History department, however, what Saturday's game proved was that UC's upset of Wisconsin was not an accident; that the Bearcats won't be outclassed by anyone on their schedule; that Ohio State is not the only college football team in the state of Ohio.

        “I think we opened the eyes of many people,” Bobby Fuller said. “We are a team that can go out and play. We can make things happen. I think we're really going to shock the world this year.”

        If you count moral victories, they already have.