Cincinnati vs Ohio: A Football History

 Bearcats vs Bobcats, 1946 (Enquirer)

Bearcats vs Bobcats, 1946 (Enquirer)

On Saturday, the Bearcats and Bobcats will meet at Nippert Stadium. For younger fans like myself, this is probably seen as a novelty matchup. The two schools share Ohio’s southern half, separated by just about 150 miles. Despite this, they haven’t met on the football field since 1981.

This is pretty unusual, because Cincinnati gets around the state pretty well. Since last meeting Ohio in 1981, the Bearcats have:

  • Faced Miami (OH) 38 times

  • Faced Akron six times

  • Faced Ohio State five times

  • Faced Toledo five times

  • Faced Bowling Green four times

  • Faced Kent State four times

  • Faced Youngstown State three times

And the Penguins don’t even have an FBS program.

Cincinnati’s longest stretch without a game against an in-state team belongs to Ohio. Why do I think this is weird? Because the Bobcats were a rival of Cincinnati’s for decades. Older fans remember this, I’m sure. But I’m betting this is news to most readers. There are only two teams Cincinnati has played more often than the Bobcats. One is Miami (OH) at 123 games and the other is Louisville at 53 games.

Right behind them are the Ohio Bobcats with 50 matchups against Cincinnati, yet not one game since October 10, 1981.

 (winsipedia.com)

(winsipedia.com)

Look at the all-time series history and you’ll notice weird patterns. The “rivalry,” if you could even call it that anymore, is marked by win streaks. Wins for both sides usually come in bunches, followed by periods of inactivity. I think it speaks to Cincinnati’s history of conference unrest that the team they’ve faced the third most hasn’t been on the schedule in 37 years and only appeared on it in spurts prior to that.

UC fans need a refresher course on one of the program’s great historical rivals before things get re-ignited this weekend. Here’s a look at the series and some of its noteworthy games.

 

 

All-time series record: Cincinnati leads, 24–23–3

First meeting: 1896

Last meeting: 1981

Current streak: Cincinnati, 1 game (1981)

Record in Cincinnati: Cincinnati leads, 14-13-1

Streak in Cincinnati: Ohio , 1 game (1979)

 

 
 
 (Enquirer)

(Enquirer)

 

October 17, 1896—Bearcats 52, Ohio 0

The first meeting came late in the 19th century and featured the Bearcats, coming off an 8-6 victory against Ohio State the previous week, blasting the living daylights out of the Bobcats in Cincinnati. The Enquirer picked Ohio’s performance apart.

“The visitors were no match for the Cincinnati team, which about 10 minutes of play proved,” said the following morning’s paper. “The Ohio University team withstood the attacks of the University of Cincinnati backs like sieve holds water.”

Yikes.

Touchdowns were only worth four points at the time, and the Bearcats had 10 of them. The remaining 12 points came on PATs, then worth two. 400 people attended the game. The Bearcats set a school record (long since broken) for points in a game.

 

 
 The 1901 Bearcats football team (UC Libraries)

The 1901 Bearcats football team (UC Libraries)

November 2, 1901—Ohio 16, Bearcats 0

The first football game played in Clifton. Ever.

Cincinnati football was founded in 1885 by Arch Carson. Ten years later, Carson introduced a plan for an on-campus stadium at the site where Nippert Stadium currently stands. Construction began in the form of wood bleachers in 1900. On November 2, 1901, the Bearcats took the field against the Bobcats for the first game on campus—at Carson Field.

To finish this thread, construction on a permanent concrete seating area began in 1915. The horseshoe structure we see today officially opened in 1924, no longer as Carson field, but as Nippert Stadium.

The Bearcats lost the game, 16-0, and Ohio got its first win in the series’ third game.

“It is to be regretted that what the university has long desired, an adequate athletic field, once obtained could not be dedicated under more auspicious circumstances,” said the Enquirer.

The field, while it finally did exist, was—uh—not good. From the Enquirer:

“Football was rarely played under more discouraging circumstances than the game of yesterday. The field was something awful to contemplate, being at places a foot deep in dust and as uneven as could be imagined. Once the ball was put in play the men were hidden under a canopy of dust that rendered it utterly impossible to witness what was going on, and made it appear as if the elevens were engaged in a veritable battle of Gettysburg.”

The teams meet again on Saturday, in the same spot, 117 years later.

The field is turf now.

 

 
 (UC Libraries)

(UC Libraries)

November 14, 1925—Ohio 13, Bearcats 2

The game’s first meeting at Nippert Stadium, in the venue’s second year.

Ohio had their biggest win over Cincinnati since 1917, and things were about to get worse for the Bearcats. This game set off Cincinnati’s worst stretch in the series. Through 1938, Ohio would go 11-1-1 against UC.

 

 
 (Enquirer)

(Enquirer)

November 18, 1933—Bearcats 2, Ohio 0

In the early ‘30s, Cincinnati got better at football. Much better. They hadn’t won seven games in a season since 1904, but under the leadership of Dana King and Russ Cohen, they managed it three times in four years as members of the Buckeye Athletic Association.

Despite this success, they couldn’t manage to fare well against their rivals from Athens. One year, however, they did manage to break through: 1933.

The 1933 Bobcats were good. They lost just two games that season—one to a very good Purdue team (I know, right?) and one to Cincinnati. In fact, Ohio was great during that whole era. In 1929, they went 9-0, outscoring their opponents 305-7. They went undefeated again the following year, finishing 8-0-1. In 1931, they went 7-1. In 1932, they went 7-2.

In 1933, they ran up against the unfriendly confines of Nippert Stadium.

It was “two great defensive lines battling to a standstill,” according to the yearbook. UC scored the game’s only points on a punt blocked in the end zone for a safety.

The Enquirer called it “one of the most vivid and brilliant battles ever contested on a Cincinnati gridiron.”

It was Cincinnati’s first victory over Ohio in a decade, clinching the conference championship in front of a “packed house” at Nippert.

 

 
 
 The Bearcats carry the ball on the game’s opening play. To the right, #33 is Bearcat (and future Steeler) legend Elbie Nickel. (Enquirer)

The Bearcats carry the ball on the game’s opening play. To the right, #33 is Bearcat (and future Steeler) legend Elbie Nickel. (Enquirer)

 

October 19, 1946—Bearcats 19, Ohio 0

The Bearcats football program took a pause for two years in 1943 and 1944 during World War II. They returned in 1945 to a 4-4 record under Ray Nolting before embarking on a golden era.

Fan support was at an all-time high in ‘46. A near-capacity homecoming crowd of 25,000 fans packed Nippert for the Ohio game.

The Bearcats drove 76 yards in 10 plays on the game’s opening drive to take the lead before stopping Ohio at the goal line on their ensuing 77-yard drive. Cincinnati never looked back, winning 19-0 in one of the season’s several significant victories.

The 1946 Bearcats were probably Cincinnati’s best team prior to their awakening under the likes of Mark Dantonio and Brian Kelly. They went 9-2 that year en route to their first bowl appearance, an 18-6 win over Virginia Tech in the 1947 Sun Bowl on New Year’s Day.

The win sparked Cincinnati’s best stretch in the Ohio series, as it marked the Bearcats’ first of seven wins in seven years against the Bobcats.

UC joined the newly-formed Mid-American Conference the following season, which also featured Ohio. Cincinnati left following the 1952 campaign, having never lost to the Bobcats as conference opponents.

The realignment also brought the series to a halt, and the teams didn’t face each other for 16 years.

 

 
 
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November 16, 1968—Ohio 60, Bearcats 48

The series’ triumphant return in 1968 lived up to its billing. While just 9,700 fans turned up to Nippert to watch the game, they got a treat.

Cincinnati QB Greg Cook, just two months shy of being selected 5th overall by the Bengals, reeled off a UC-record 554 passing yards in the shootout loss. He passed for four touchdowns and ran for another. It was enough to give Cincinnati a 35-34 halftime lead before a Bobcats team that would finish the regular season undefeated became too much for Cincinnati.

Cook’s passing record of 554 yards was edged out by freshman Hayden Moore, who entered in relief and threw for 557 yards in the infamous Memphis debacle of 2015.

 

 
 
 Cincinnati QB Art Bailey scrambles for a short gain. (Enquirer)

Cincinnati QB Art Bailey scrambles for a short gain. (Enquirer)

 

November 13, 1976—Bearcats 35, Ohio 0

Another UC-is-randomly-good-at-football year. The Bearcats flirted with success for a while, finishing with winning records in four of the previous six seasons. In 1976, however, things took off. The Bearcats finished 9-2 with their only losses coming on the road to #7 Georgia and #6 Maryland in back-t0-back games.

It was their best record in 23 years.

In November, they came back home to face the Bobcats.

19,412 fans came out for homecoming to see the Bearcats put a beating on Ohio. The game was tame in the first half, with UC holding a 7-0 lead at the break. Things got ugly in a hurry. A Keith Jenkins pick six set off a four-touchdown flurry in seven minutes and UC had it wrapped up.

They closed the season with decisive home wins over Vanderbilt and Louisville. They wouldn’t win nine games again until 2007.

 

 
 
 Bearcat running back James Bettis plows ahead. (Enquirer)

Bearcat running back James Bettis plows ahead. (Enquirer)

 

October 10, 1981—Bearcats 19, Ohio 9

The most recent matchup in the series.

The Bearcats struggled to open the year, losing at home to FCS Youngstown State before a 52-0 manhandling by the #9 Nittany Lions at Penn State and a 38-7 beatdown at #7 Pittsburgh the following week.

They returned home on September 26 to notch a surprising 10-0 shutout against Rutgers before traveling to Athens. They came home with their first road win since 1978.

Pint-sized running back James Bettis led the way with 167 yards and two touchdowns on his way to setting a new career rushing record for the Bearcats that year.

A defense that couldn’t beat Youngstown State a month prior held the Bobcats to six rushing yards on the road.

“We’re going to win eight games,” declared Bettis to the Enquirer after the game. “There’s no doubt about it.”

They didn’t. They won six.

But for a team coming off four total wins in the prior two years and a loss to an FCS team in the season opener, 6-5 doesn’t seem like anything to be ashamed of.

Bettis’ 2,498 career rushing yards currently sit at #7 on UC’s all-time list, just ahead of recently-departed Mike Boone.

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