Late game mistakes lead to Mustangs’ 26-20 loss to Cincinnati

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All year long, the SMU Mustangs have been clutch when they’ve needed to be. They rallied to win in overtime against Navy. They scored in the final two minutes against Tulane and the defense forced a fumble to clinch the game. But Saturday night, they couldn’t keep it up.

Ben Hicks’ underthrew James Proche on a shallow route in overtime and Cincinnati linebacker James Wiggins caught the pass and returned it for an 86-yard, walk-off touchdown in the Bearcats 26-20 win over the Mustangs Saturday night at Ford Stadium.

For the better part of the last four minutes, it seemed like it’d be SMU who would walk out of Ford Stadium with the comeback win. They’d trailed 17-7 in the third quarter, but Kevin Robledo’s 36-yard field goal with 4:23 left gave the Mustangs a three-point lead.

But SMU’s defense just could not stop the Bearcats. Cincinnati took over on its own 25-yard line with 1:21 left in the game, and preceded to march down the field, tying the game when kicker Cole Smith hit a 41-yard field goal as time expired.

For the Mustangs, it was a drive full of missed tackles and missed opportunities.

For the better part of 58 minutes, SMU’s defense had been playing its best game of the season. Desmond Ridder hit Khalil Lewis for a 32-yard touchdown in the game’s first minute and a half, but the Mustangs proceeded to hold the Bearcats during the remainder of the half. While Cincinnati racked up 264 first-half yards, it only mustered up that one touchdown.

That was because the Mustangs’ defense had played well when it mattered the most. They stopped the Bearcats twice on fourth-down attempts inside of the SMU 30-yard line, and forced three turnovers in the first half alone.

They just couldn’t close out the game.

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The Mustangs struggled to finish strong against Cincinnati. Photo credit: Zach Fiedler

When the Mustangs found themselves in a ten-point hole early in the third quarter, it was Hicks who picked up the slack. The junior quarterback threw for 270 yards in the second half, amassing 328 on the night – the most yards Cincinnati has allowed through the air all season. He was key to SMU’s three second half scoring drives, completing pass after pass downfield to get his team within striking distance. He even led a fourth drive inside the Bearcats’ 30-yard line, but the Mustangs came away without points after Robledo missed a 42-yard field goal.

But he, like so many others, made his most crucial mistake when the game was on the line. The interception was his fourth of the season. All four of those interceptions have resulted in defensive touchdowns.

Reggie Roberson was Hicks’ favorite target on the night. He finished with a season-high 147 yards on seven receptions and also caught two touchdowns.

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Reggie Roberson finished the game with a season-high 147 yards. Photo credit: Zach Fiedler

James Proche made several impressive grabs and finished the night with six catches for 72 yards.

The Mustangs’ running game was dormant once again. 24 carries resulted in just 23 yards.

With the loss, SMU falls to 3-5 (2-2). SMU will need to win three of its next four games to become bowl eligible.

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