for this game

Cincinnati spoils Bower's final game with Southern Miss

Dec 23, 2007 - 12:42 AM BIRMINGHAM, Alabama (Ticker) -- Ben Mauk helped spoil coach Jeff Bower's farewell.

Mauk threw four touchdown passes to lift No. 20 Cincinnati to a 31-21 victory over Southern Mississippi on Saturday in the Papajohns.com Bowl.

Dominick Goodman caught a pair of TD passes as the Bearcats (8-5) sent long-time Golden Eagles coach Bower out on a losing note. Bower announced his resignation earlier this month despite leading leading the Southern Miss (7-6) to its 14th straight winning season.

"I thought we played extremely hard in the ballgame and we obviously didn't make enough plays to win the game," Bower said. "But it wasn't because of the lack of effort. That's what a coach wants to see.

"Give them a lot of credit, they are a really good football team."

A costly turnover by the Golden Eagles and a gamble by Bower that backfired provided the impetus for Cincinnati to erase a 7-0 first-quarter deficit and roll off 21 unanswered points.

With the scored tied at 7-7, the Bearcats' DeAngelo Smith made the first of his two interceptions with 5:27 left in the first half.

Cincinnati cashed in on the turnover when Mauk floated a 5-yard scoring pass that Goodman ripped away from two defenders to make it 14-7 with just 24 seconds left in the half.

"Ben Mauk is what makes it go for us," Bearcats coach Brian Kelly said. "He was difficult to defend and made plays. If there was one guy that made a difference today and is the heartbeat of our football team, it was Ben Mauk."

Goodman, who earlier had a 14-yard scoring reception, caught seven passes for 95 yards in the absence of top wideout Marcus Barnett, who was knocked out of the game with an ankle injury.

Mauk finished 30-of-52 for 334 yards, four TDs and three interceptions.

"It's like what I did in high school. Something I've been used to doing," said Mauk of the 50-plus passing attempts. "Before the game (Kelly) told me ... we throw for 50 to 60 passes. I said I'm ready for it. I was really excited when he told me that."

Bower attempted a fake punk on the opening drive of the second half, but Britt Barefoot was stopped for no gain.

Mauk needed just one play to get in the end zone, finding Earnest Jackson on a 29-yard scoring pass for a 21-7 lead with 13:17 left in the third quarter.

Southern Miss quarterback Jeremy Young capped off a 14-play, 78-yard drive on the next possession to cut the deficit to 21-14, but Mauk's fourth touchdown pass doubled the lead with 4:08 to play in the quarter.

Damion Fletcher rushed for 155 yards on 29 carries for the Golden Eagles, but he was stopped on a 4th-and-1 with 6 1/2 minutes to play to snuff out his team's final comeback hopes.

"In the end, I didn't think it was a great day for me because we didn't come out with a win," Fletcher said.

"He's a good running back. He was kind of hard to bring down," said Cincinnati defensive end Anthony Hoke of Fletcher. "But like I said, it was a team effort and we got it done."

Bower has been the coach at Southern Mississippi for the last 17 seasons, posting a 119-83-1 record while leading the Golden Eagles to 10 bowl appearances. Former Oklahoma State offensive coordinator Larry Fedora was hired December 12 to replace Bower, whose only losing seasons came in 1991 and 1993.

"My hat goes off to Jeff Bower and Southern Miss," Kelly said. "I think it was pretty clear today if you watched Southern Miss play, those kids played hard for Jeff today. They gave it everything they had, gave us a lot of problems."

Bower's tenure has been longer than all but three coaches in the Football Bowl Subdivision. Only Penn State's Joe Paterno (42), Bobby Bowden (32) of Florida State and Virginia Tech's Frank Beamer (21) have longer runs with their schools.

"I think our program on the field has been consistently good," Bower said. "You guys know I'm not a big ego guy but I'm a proud of winning four (league) championships and having 14 straight winning seasons and being to 10 bowl game sin the last 11 years.

"I'm most proud of what we have done in the classroom - our graduation rate. I think we've done a pretty darn good job."