Pitt’s been aching to play Cincy for a year

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CINCINNATI (AP) - A year later, Pittsburgh still feels the sting.

All the Panthers had to do to win the Big East title last December was finish off a Cincinnati team that was in a near-hopeless situation before halftime. They couldn’t do it.

On a raw, snowy day at Heinz Field, receiver and kick returner Mardy Gilyard rallied Cincinnati from a 31-10 deficit to a 45-44 win and its second straight Big East title. Armon Binns’ 29-yard touchdown catch with 33 seconds left gave the Bearcats a perfect regular season, a berth in the Sugar Bowl and a once-in-school-history win.

The Panthers? So distraught that several of them fell to their knees in anguish in the tunnel heading to the locker room.

And the hurt hasn’t gone away.

Pitt has only a slim chance of winning this year’s conference BCS bowl berth when it plays in Cincinnati on Saturday. The Panthers (6-5, 4-2) can win a share of the regular season title by beating the Bearcats (4-7, 2-4). They would win it outright _ and the BCS berth _ if Connecticut (7-4, 4-2) and West Virginia (8-3, 4-2) lose their games as well.

UConn has all the tiebreakers in its favor and can win it outright by beating South Florida on Saturday night.

The Panthers were in position to win the title before losing to West Virginia 35-10 at home last week, done in by four turnovers.

“It was a huge letdown, what happened last week,” safety Dom DeCicco said. “And we’re all crushed over it.”

That one was difficult to take, but not quite like the one last December that Cincinnati stole in the final seconds. That’s motivation enough.

“Last year, (Cincinnati) took our hearts,” defensive lineman Chas Alecxih said. “The stage was set. All we needed to do was win, but a couple of rough breaks and they walked out with a victory. So, that’s been on our minds all year. Obviously, this hasn’t been as successful a year as we would like, but a win over them would really help ease the pain right now.”

There’s nothing that can sugarcoat Cincinnati’s season. The Bearcats expected to be competitive in their first season under coach Butch Jones, given that they had the core of their offense returning. A young defense hasn’t held up, and the Bearcats don’t have anyone like Gilyard _ now in the NFL _ who can make a play and change a game.

Cincinnati has lost four of its last five games, giving up at least 31 points in each. After going to the Orange and Sugar bowls each of the last two years, Cincinnati won’t be going anywhere after Saturday.

“It’s very disappointing,” Jones said. “That’s not up to our standard. I know our fans are disappointed, and rightfully so. I can promise you this: We’ll be working 24/7 to get this football team, this football program back to a bowl game next year.”

For now, there’s not much beyond the disappointment.

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