LaDaris Vann outruns Purdue’s Ralph Turner for a 20-yard TD in the first quarter of a game on 9/2/01
This Saturday, the Cincinnati Bearcats pack their bags and head up to Purdue for the first time in their 131-year history. The 1–0 Boilermakers await, as the Bearcats look to calm the nerves of fans after a less-than-convincing 28–7 Week 1 victory over the UT-Martin Skyhawks. On their end, the Boilermakers cruised to a 45–24 win over the Eastern Kentucky Colonels and hope to keep momentum moving in the non-conference before a crushing Big Ten schedule greets them in October.
All-time series record: Tied, 1–1
First meeting: 2001–02 season
Last meeting: 2013–14 season
Current streak: UC won last meeting
Record in West Lafayette: N/A
Streak in West Lafayette: N/A
These two teams met for the first time in 2001, despite co-existing as programs since 1887. Considering just 181 miles separate Nippert and Ross-Ade, you’d think the two teams would’ve found time to play in those first 114 years.
To set the scene in 2001, the Bearcats were coming off a 7–5 campaign in 2000 that ended with a crippling loss to Marshall in the Motor City Bowl. They opened the 2001 season on September 2nd against Purdue. (The next week’s game was against––of all teams––Army, in New York just three days before 9/11.) Fans packed Nippert hoping to see a win against a Big Ten team. A sellout crowd of 35,097 was the largest in stadium history.
The fans got a treat. The teams traded long touchdown drives on their first possessions to knot the score at 7–7 after the first quarter. In the second quarter, the UC defense bent but didn’t break, allowing field goals of 25 and 39 yards to enter the half trailing 13–7.
Purdue increased its lead with a 16-yard touchdown run by Joey Harris in the third quarter, but a failed two-point conversion left the score 19–7. The Bearcats answered back with a 17-yard touchdown pass to LaDaris Vann, his second of the game, to bring the score within five headed to the fourth.
On the last play of the game, a pass intended for Tye Keith is intercepted in the end zone, sealing the Purdue victory on 9/2/01. (AP photo)
Late in the fourth quarter, looking to take the lead and spring the upset, the Bearcats beat themselves. “In the most crucial play of perhaps the biggest football game in the school’s history,” wrote Bill Koch in the Enquirer, “The Bearcats grappled with the most basic element of the game — placing the proper number of players on the field.” Following a timeout, the Bearcats sent 10 men onto the field. The 11th, running back Ray Jackson, wasn’t able to scamper onto the field and get set in time, spurring an illegal shift penalty that negated a long fourth down conversion that would’ve put the Bearcats on the Purdue six yard line.
“It was a blunder,” head coach Rick Minter said after the game. “It really was.” Uhhh, yeah.
The Bearcats would get another shot at the upset on the game’s final play, but an Adam Hoover pass was picked off in the end zone and Purdue escaped with a 19–14 victory.
The teams would meet again in 2013. Again it was a season opener in Cincinnati, and again it was a sellout crowd. 36,007 fans––a new stadium record––packed Nippert Stadium on August 31st to see the first game of the Tommy Tuberville era.
They were not disappointed this time.
Freshman Tion Green finds the end zone in the fourth quarter of a game on 8/31/13. (Lisa Ventre/UC)
After a scoreless first quarter, QB Munchie Legaux found the end zone on a 10-yard scamper to give the Bearcats the lead. Purdue would equalize with 3:26 remaining in the half, but the Bearcats slammed on the gas, finishing the game on a 35–0 run for a 42–7 victory over the Boilermakers.
Scoring touchdowns were TE Blake Annen, RB Ralph David Abernathy IV, DB Adrian Witty, RB Hosey Williams, and RB Tion Green. Green notched his second career TD in that game, and faces Purdue on Saturday as a senior looking for number 18.
Saturday’s contest determines who takes the lead in this brief three-game series. Maybe Tuberville and crew can recapture 2013’s magic and lay a beating on the Boilermakers. I think the team, and the fan base, needs it. In 2001, the Bearcats followed a disappointing bowl game with a heartbreaking loss to Purdue. Last season’s Hawaii Bowl was a disaster. I’m not sure any of us can handle a tragedy in West Lafayette.