CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Travis Kelce took his fifth catch of the game 83 yards for the go-ahead touchdown with 44 seconds remaining to lift Cincinnati past Duke, 48-34, in the 11th annual Belk Bowl in front of a crowd of 48,128 in Bank of America Stadium.
With the score tied 34-34 in the fourth quarter, Duke drove 52 yards to the Cincinnati 5-yard line with 1:20 remaining, but Cincinnati lineman Brandon Mills knocked the ball out of running back Josh Snead’s hands for the Bearcats’ fourth forced turnover of the game. Bearcats lineman John Williams recovered the fumble to set up Cincinnati’s go-ahead, 94-yard touchdown drive that culminated in Kelce’s 83-yard reception.
The loss drops Duke’s season record to 6-7, while the Bearcats end the 2012 season 10-3. The six wins are Duke’s most since the 1994 season when Duke went 8-4.
Duke quarterback Sean Renfree set Belk Bowl records for completions, attempts and passing yards, hitting 37-of-49 attempts for 358 yards and a 10-yard touchdown pass to fellow senior Conner Vernon. Renfree ended his career with 9,465 passing yards, 898 completions, 51 passing touchdowns and a .647 career completion percentage, setting school records for completion percentage and pass completions while finishing among Duke’s top three in passing yards, pass attempts, touchdown passes and pass efficiency.
Vernon, meanwhile, bookended his Duke career with a 10-catch, 119-yard performance that pushed his career totals to 283 receptions for 3,749 yards, both ACC records. The touchdown reception gave Vernon 21 career touchdown catches, tied for the fourth most in school history.
Snead rushed for a career-high 107 yards on 17 carries while quarterback Brandon Connette rushed for one touchdown and threw another to tight end David Reeves. Duke amassed 200 rushing yards, marking the second time in 2012 that the Blue Devils reached the 200-yard plateau on the ground. Duke kicker Ross Martin nailed two field goals, including a Belk Bowl-record 52-yarder that gave Martin a school-record 106 points on the season.
Kelce finished with a team-high 123 yards receiving for Cincinnati, and Bearcats quarterback Brendon Kay threw for a Belk Bowl-record four touchdowns. Cincinnati running back George Winn rushed 16 times for 135 yards and a touchdown.
Duke staked a 16-0 lead by the end of the first quarter, scoring on a five-yard Connette rushing touchdown, a 33-yard Martin field goal and a blocked punt that redshirt senior cornerback Tony Foster picked up in the end zone. The touchdown was a first for Foster, who broke through the line of scrimmage and batted the Cincinnati punt into the end zone where he fell on it to put Duke ahead 16-0.
Following a 45-yard Cincinnati field goal, Duke came within a half yard of increasing the lead by another touchdown but fumbled near the end zone to kill the drive. Sean Renfree, who was 8-of-9 for 55 yards on the drive, completed a pass to running back Jela Duncan who carried to the Cincinnati 1-yard line but was stripped by linebacker Greg Blair for a turnover.
Cincinnati stopped Duke on a 4th-and-1 at the Cincinnati 46-yard line and strung together a 5-play, 55-yard touchdown drive that culminated in a 26-yard pass from Kay to Anthony McClung and cut Duke’s lead to 16-10.
Duke faced a 4th-and-17 at its own 19-yard line late in the second quarter, but first team All-ACC punter Will Monday flipped the field on the Bearcats with a Belk Bowl-record 79-yard punt that pushed Cincinnati back to its own 2-yard line. It did little to stop the Bearcats, however, as Kay completed a 41-yard touchdown pass to Ralph Abernathy that capped the 98-yard drive and gave Cincinnati a 17-16 lead entering the half.
Duke drove into Cincinnati territory on its last drive of the first half and put Martin in position for a 53-yard field goal that he drilled through the uprights. Cincinnati was flagged for an illegal substitution during the kick, however, and officials whistled the play dead. The penalty moved Duke five yards closer, but Martin missed his second attempt from 48 yards as the half ended.
The Bearcats scored on their first two drives of the second half to extend their lead to 11 points, but Duke responded with an 11-play, 86-yard touchdown drive and two-point conversion that cut the deficit to 27-24. Renfree was 7-of-7 for 79 yards and a 10-yard touchdown pass to Vernon on the drive before completing the two-point conversion pass to tight end Issac Blakeney. Desmond Scott’s 39-yard reception on 3rd-and-9 set up Vernon’s touchdown reception, which was the 16th career touchdown pass from Renfree to Vernon, tied for the second most between a quarterback and receiver in Duke history.
The score flipped again after Cincinnati took a 34-31 lead on a 25-yard touchdown pass from Kay to Chris Moore in the fourth quarter. The lead did not last long, however, as Martin booted his career-long and Belk Bowl-record 52-yard field goal to tie the score with 7:47 remaining.
Duke drove to Cincinnati’s 5-yard line on its next drive, but Mills forced Snead’s fumble and Cincinnati recovered with 1:20 remaining. Kay fired the 83-yard touchdown pass to Kelce four plays later, and linebacker Nick Temple sealed the win with a 55-yard interception return for a touchdown.