Sunday, November 07, 1999

Bearcats close again, still so far away




BY TIM SULLIVAN
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Deontey Kenner missed his read. That much was obvious. A quarterback does not deliver the ball directly to the enemy if he expects the defender to be in a specific spot.

        But there wasn't much time — just one minute and 10 seconds — and there weren't any timeouts left The University of Cincinnati quarterback was operating under duress when he lost track of Louisville linebacker Bud Herring Saturday afternoon. Four points down and 36 yards from the goal line, Kenner was looking for a friendly target in a frantic hurry.

        “We needed to have seven (points),” Kenner said later in a voice as soft as a snowflake. “We couldn't settle for a field goal. (But) A first down stopped the clock. We could have scored. We had a crossing route and I made a bad read.”

        Kenner let the ball go, and just that quickly he wanted it back. Herring crossed up the crossing route with an interception, and then he sprinted 66 yards for a touchdown to seal Louisville's 23-13 victory. Deontey Kenner trudged slowly to the sideline and dropped his helmet.

Another near-victory
        It has been that sort of season for the Bearcats. Beating Wisconsin, it turns out, was not a harbinger but an aberration — a close game UC couldn't find a way to lose.

        “We're tired of saying every week that we're due,” said UC coach Rick Minter. “We're not out for moral victories. A losing season is nailed down and I don't like it.”

        Nine weeks into the season, Minter is still watching his freshman kicker, Jonathon Ruffin, shank short field goals. He is still trying to figure out which offense will show up from one week to the next — the juggernaut or the clunker. Seven weeks after the goalposts were torn down at Nippert Stadium, the Bearcats are staggering toward the finish at 3-6. Six of their games have been decided by fewer than 10 points. Five of them have been losses.

        “It burns a hole in your chest,” said Robert Cooper, the UC running back. “We've lost too many close games this season. If someone had told me in training camp that we'd lose this many close games, I wouldn't believe it. It's tough to keep coming this close. I'd rather get blown out, to tell you the truth.”

        The Bearcats probably didn't deserve to beat Louisville Saturday, but this was one of those games that was there to be grabbed. Twice, UC stopped the the this was one of those games that was there to be grabbed. Twice, UC stopped the Cardinals' prolific offense on fourth down inside the 2-yard line. Another time, Kirk Thompson intercepted Louisville's Heisman Trophy candidate, Chris Redman, at the UC 13.

UC had its chances
        But Minter's offense couldn't capitalize on its chances, and it left Minter's defense on the field entirely too much. After holding the Cardinals to three points in the first half, the fatigue started to show. Then Redman made one of those plays that distinguish Heisman candidates from regular humans.

        Trailing, 7-3, late in the third quarter, Redman attempted a pass that UC tackle Mario Monds swatted back toward his face. “I think,” Monds said, “I got excited too soon.”

        Redman reacted as if Monds had merely set him up for a volleyball spike. He tapped the ball forward and into the fingers of Arnold Jackson.

        First down, Louisville.

        “We were just trying to make some plays and we had to do what we had to do,” Redman said.

        Frustration, Cincinnati.

        “That play,” Minter said, “is indicative of how our season is going.”

        Redman's second-chance completion was the 999th of his record-setting career, and sustained Louisville's go-ahead touchdown drive. It was the kind of play that leaves the victims lamenting their fate.

        “Everybody gets breaks,” Monds said. “In due time, we'll get ours. This is the most frustrating part — to be so close in so many games and see it disappear in one play. It breaks your spirit a little bit.”

        It's been a tough year that way for the Bearcats. The good news is that it's almost over.

        Enquirer columnist Tim Sullivan welcomes your email at tsullivan@enquirer.com.

        SULLIVAN ARCHIVE