Even though the outcome had already been decided, for just one brief moment the Colonels had a reason to celebrate.

After quarterback Allan Holland hit Cody Watts on a 61-yard touchdown pass with less than a minute left in the third quarter Thursday against Cincinnati, the entire offense rushed down the field, including most of the line, and mobbed the sophomore wide receiver in the end zone.

“We are a tight group on offense,” Watts said. “We all hang out together. We all go to class together. So, when somebody scores we are all happy.”

It was one of the very few bright spots in a lopsided season-opening loss.

Senior quarterback Dustin Grutza, a Maysville native, threw for three scores and rushed for another TD as the Bearcats rolled to a 40-7 win over Eastern Kentucky University at Nippert Stadium. Cincinnati finished with 557 yards of total offense, despite committing 11 penalties for 106 yards, scored on its first three possessions and was never seriously challenged by the Colonels after building a 26-point halftime lead.

“I felt good about how hard our kids played,” first-year EKU coach Dean Hood said. “It was a hard-hitting game and our kids were really flying around and knocking them around a little bit. I was proud of that. And I was proud of the fourth quarter. We still played hard.”

Still, it wasn’t enough to give Hood a win in his debut as a head coach.

The Bearcats opened the game with a pair of long drives (12 plays for 72 yards and 14 plays for 80 yards) that resulted in touchdowns and a 12-0 lead.

EKU was able to move the chains on its first two possessions, but a disastrous drive mid-way through the second quarter set up the Bearcats for a quick score that probably ended any thought of an upset.

After Holland was sacked inside his own 5-yard line, Cincinnati got a big punt return from D.J. Woods and then a 26-yard pass from Grutza to Dominick Goodman on the opening snap of the drive. Two plays later, John Goebel added a 1-yard TD run to give the Bearcats a 19-0 lead.

“They scored on their first two drives, but I had a really good feeling about the game because we made them execute their offense,” Hood said. “And I just always feel that if you make an offense go 10 or 12 plays they are going to jump offsides, or throw an interception and fumble. But, we just couldn’t get off the field.”

The Bearcats ran 37 offensive plays in the first half and went into the locker room with 339 yards of total offense. Grutza led the way, completing 15 of 20 pass attempts for 226 yards and three scores.

The senior quarterback added a 2-yard TD run in the third quarter and finished with a career-high 296 passing yards.

Goodman and Mardy Gilyard each had two TD catches and more than a 100 yards receiving.

“It felt great to be out there,” Grutza said. “We prepared well and we didn’t know exactly what to expect from them. Coach had us prepared really well. There is definitely room to work. Coach Kelly’s emphasis is going out there and playing hard. I think we did that.”

Still, the Colonels had chances.

After a 51-yard kickoff return by Jeremy Caldwell in the second quarter, EKU moved into UC territory for the first time, but that drive ended when senior Taylor Long missed a 40-yard field goal.

Caldwell recovered a fumble near midfield with 2:43 left in the half, but two plays later, tight end Stephen Sizemore lost control of the ball after making a catch over the middle.

“There are some positives, but there are a lot of negatives,” Holland said. “And we’ve got to fix the negatives if we are going to be a good football team. We have to learn from our mistakes.”

The Bearcats removed any doubt about the outcome of the game on the opening drive of the second half. They put together a 20-play, 78-drive that took more than nine minutes off the clock and gave them a 33-0 lead.

“We couldn’t run the football and we gave up too many big plays,” Hood said.

EKU finished with just 195 yards of total offense, only 48 of which came on the ground.

Holland completed 12 of 17 passes for 141 yards and was intercepted once. Watts had a team-high 97 yards receiving on three catches and Sizemore had six receptions for 38 yards.

“Once we look at the film, we are going to see some good things,” Watts said.

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