Cincinnati Claws Southern Miss 27-24

CINCINNATI (AP) _ The few thousand fans who stuck it out to the astonishing end stormed the field and reveled in the moment. Down by 17 points entering the fourth quarter, Cincinnati took advantage of one break after another to beat No. 24 Southern Mississippi 27-24 on Saturday. Deontey Kenner threw two touchdown passes in a 61-second span and Jonathan Ruffin _ a Lou Groza Award finalist _ made both of his field-goal attempts for the Bearcats' sweetest win of the season. ``There's jubilation in our locker room,'' coach Rick Minter said. ``With where we've been, we're on the mountaintop right now.'' Cincix games to get in line for one of the conference's four bowl berths. The Bearcats were waiting to see where they're headed. ``That's the only euphoria missing in that locker room, to know where we're going,'' Minter said. ``We'll be gracious to go anywhere.'' While the Bearcats and their fans lingered on the field and hugged, Southern Miss (7-3, 4-2) stood on the sideline stunned for a few minutes, shed a few tears and then walked off slowly. The Golden Eagles let a 24-7 lead get away by fumbling three times and throwing a pair of interceptions, deciding a ragged game filled with controversy, penalties and mistakes. Offensive lineman Billy Clay was still wearing his white No. 55 jersey and still fighting back tears 25 minutes after the game. ``I don't know. This is my last year _ it is for a lot of us,'' the senior said. ``There were a lot of things we were still fighting for _ 10 wins, getting into the Top 10 maybe. We had a lot to play for. That hurts bad. It looked like we let up.'' More accurately, they fumbled around. After a pair of Cincinnati fumbles helped Southern Miss score a pair of touchdowns in a 41-second span for a 24-7 lead, the Golden Eagles let it get away. Dewayne Woods' fumble set up Deontey Kenner's 8-yard touchdown pass. On the next play, Jeff Kelly couldn't find anyone open and wound up fumbling. Moments later, Kenner threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Tye Keith and Cincinnati sensed that things had changed dramatically. ``When our defense got us that first (fumble), I said that we had the momentum,'' Keith said. Ruffin's 41-yard field goal tied it at 24, and Gerry Ruff intercepted Kelly at the 50 with 2:26 left to set up the winning kick. Ruffin hit a 31-yard attempt with 45 seconds left. The Bearcats' 29th field goal of the season matched UCLA's record from 1984. Southern Miss botched a lateral on the kickoff return, leaving the Golden Eagles on their 23. After Kelly ran twice, his last pass was picked off by Ruff as time ran out. Southern Miss had turned the game and grabbed the momentum late in the first half with a little trickery _ a fake punt that led to a long-winded dispute. Tight end Bobby Garner threw to linebacker Joe Henley for a 29-yard gain, but the officials initially ruled that linebacker Terrell Paul was downfield illegally. Southern Miss called a timeout to argue its case and the officials changed the call, ruling Paul was an eligible receiver. Minter and his assistants came onto the field screaming about the reversal. Southern Miss also got back its timeout, though the change wasn't reflected on the scoreboard. It became another point of contention when Southern Miss got to the 1 and called a timeout with 11 seconds left even though the scoreboard indicated it had none left. Kelly threw a touchdown pass to Woods on the next play for a 10-3 lead. Minter and the Bearcats assistants encircled back judge Gerry Bram along the sideline, waving their arms angrily and holding up four fingers as they argued that Southern Miss had gotten an extra timeout. That sequence seemed to take the fight out of the Bearcats, who quickly fell behind in the third quarter and seemed to be down-and-out until Southern Miss got sloppy. ``It's very disappointing,'' Henley said. ``Everybody's quiet. We just want to get dressed and get out of here.''