The Cincinnati Bearcats continued its hot streak and stayed in the hunt for the American Athletic crown and a BCS bid in the process Saturday.
However, the Bearcats had to sweat things out in the final minutes.
Brendon Kay threw for 386 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another as Cincinnati extended its winning streak to six games by holding off Houston for a 24-17 win Saturday.
Kay finished 29 of 50 and added 38 yards on the ground. Shaq Washington caught 10 passes for 132 yards, Anthony McClung had 9 catches for 137 yards and Chris Moore added 4 receptions for 72 yards and two touchdowns.
Hosey Williams rushed 13 times for 84 yards for Cincinnati (9-2, 6-1 American), who finished with 573 yards of offense.
Cincinnati remained in a tie for second in the American with Louisville, who the Bearcats play Dec. 5, and remain a game behind Central Florida.
Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville said the Bearcats played consistent on both sides of the ball, especially on the defense, but they have had an issue putting teams away.
"It means a lot for a group of guys that struggled early," Tuberville said of the six-game winning streak. "We didn't have an identity until the fifth game of the year. We have played well. We have been a good football team the last five or six weeks. We have made some mistakes, but we have been good enough to overcome those mistakes, and we have gotten better at almost every position."
John O'Korn struggled in the wet, dreary conditions finishing 13 of 30 for 171 yards and a touchdown. O'Korn was replaced by Greg Ward, Jr., in the third quarter, and Ward finished 5 of 9 for 74 yards for the Cougars (7-4, 4-3), who dropped their third straight. Ward also caught three passes for 42 yards.
Deontay Greenberry had six receptions for 64 yards and a score and Daniel Spencer added five receptions for 66 yards for the Cougars, who managed 278 yards of offense.
Spencer said Cincinnati's defense was able to keep the Cougars offense off-balance.
"When you make mistakes it's hard to win football games," Houston head coach Tony Levine said. "You don't give yourself as much of an opportunity to be successful. That starts with me, I made mistakes. . Our student-athletes played extremely hard when our defensive was on the field for 37 minutes against a talented well coached Cincinnati offense. At the end of the day, too many mistakes by everybody in our program, and it's hard to beat a team of that caliber."
After Tony Miliano missed two fourth quarter field goals, including a 24-yarder with 1:23 remaining, Houston worked its way down the field to the Bearcats' 37, but O'Korn tried to scramble on the final play, gaining only 6 yards and time ran out on the Cougars.
After a second fumble by O'Korn that was recovered by Marques Aiken at the Houston 13, Kay upped the lead to 24-7 with a 14-yard touchdown run on third and 11 midway through the third quarter.
"Our coaches stressed that the defense would determine the outcome of the game," said Bearcats defensive end Silverberry Mouhon, who had two sacks and a forced fumble. "All of us stepped up. We all counted on each other to make plays for each other, and that's how we won this thing."
Houston cut the lead to 10 on a 15-yard fumble return for a touchdown by Trevon Stewart with 5:22 left in the third. Kay was hit by Eric Braswell, forcing the fumble, and Stewart picked it up and ran it in.
"It is frustrating, but we have to put it in the past and keep moving forward," Houston defensive back Stewart said of the third straight loss. "Work harder that we have been and correct the mistakes that we had in the game. We have to keep our head up and keep moving forward."
Kyle Bullard sliced the lead to 24-17 with a 27-yard field goal with 23 seconds left in the third.
Cincinnati opened up a 7-0 lead 28 seconds into the second quarter with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Kay to Moore on third and 16.
"We executed the game plan," Kay said. "We made a lot of adjustments to what they were doing. They gave us a lot of looks. I am proud of the (offensive) line and our receivers, going out there and making plays."
Miliano extended the lead to 10-0 on a 25-yard field goal with 8:13 remaining in the second.
After Kay was intercepted by Steven Taylor setting up Houston at the Bearcats' 10, O'Korn found Greenberry two plays later for a 12-yard touchdown pass with 5:56 remaining in the first half to cut the lead to 10-7.
Cincinnati responded with a 3-yard touchdown pass from Kay to Moore with 1:29 left in the half to up the lead to 10. The score was set up by a 43-yard reception from Kay to Shaq Washington.
The game was marred by missed chances early.
Houston's first drive ended abruptly on an O'Korn fumble at the Cincinnati 16, recovered by Greg Blair. However, the Bearcats couldn't capitalize on the turnover as Miliano missed a 41-yard field goal.
Cincinnati was stopped at the Houston 1 on its next drive as on fourth and goal from the 2, Williams was held up by Houston's Tomme Mark and Taylor.