ANNAPOLIS, Md. (AP) — Michael Warren ran for a career-high 166 yards and scored the go-ahead touchdown with 1:29 left in a soggy Military Bowl to carry Cincinnati past Virginia Tech 35-31 Monday, ending the Hokies' run of 25 consecutive winning seasons.
A tight game that featured more than 900 yards in offense and seven lead changes wasn't decided until Warren busted up the middle for his second touchdown to cap a 64-yard drive directed by backup quarterback Hayden Moore.
“The O-line did a great job of getting the push, especially at the end,” said Warren, voted the game’s MVP. “When you keep running the ball and wearing the other team down, they’re not going to want to see any more of that.”
Moore, a senior who made 12 starts last year, took over for injured starter Desmond Ridder in the first quarter and completed 11 of 25 passes for 120 yards. He had previously thrown only 26 passes in 2018.
The victory gave Cincinnati (11-2) its third 11-win season in the 131-year history of the program following two straight 4-8 finishes.
"We learned a lot from the failures from last year and even from the failures we had throughout January, February and March," second-year coach Luke Fickell said.
Playing in a bowl game for the 26th successive year — the longest current run in the nation — Virginia Tech needed a victory to avoid its first losing season since 1992. Ryan Willis threw two touchdown passes and ran for another score, but it wasn't enough to put an upbeat finish on an unsatisfying season for the Hokies (6-7).
A 19-yard touchdown run by Moore put the Bearcats up 28-24 with 12:44 left, and two minutes later Willis ran it in from the 5 to give Virginia Tech its last lead. The Hokies had a chance to extend the margin with just under nine minutes left but failed on a fourth-and-1 at the Cincinnati 3.
Ridder hurt his right leg after being tripped up out of the pocket during the Bearcats' second series. The American Athletic Conference rookie of the year went 4 for 7 for 86 yards and a touchdown before leaving.
Moore picked up the slack.
"I knew this opportunity was coming sometime in the year," Moore said. "I didn't blink an eye. I just went and grabbed my helmet."
Cincinnati fumbled the slick football three times overall but recovered all of them.
Virginia Tech broke a tie on its opening drive of the third quarter, moving 69 yards before Brian Johnson kicked a field goal for a 17-14 lead. After Warren put the Bearcats in front with a 40-yard touchdown run, Willis threw a 2-yard touchdown pass to Chris Cunningham to make it 24-21 heading into the fourth quarter.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats are on the rise under Fickell, who can expect to accompany Cincinnati to more bowls in the years ahead.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies were way too inconsistent this season, which ended on a disappointing note. Virginia Tech was once 13th in the country and now must rebound from its first losing season in more than a quarter of a century.
Cincinnati: The Bearcats have 81 underclassmen but must replace 13 seniors, including Kahlil Lewis, a three-year starter.
Virginia Tech: The Hokies lose rushing leader Peoples and second-team All-ACC DT Ricky Walker, who led the team with 10½ tackles for a loss during the regular season.