- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

CINCINNATI (AP) - Gunner Kiel was so nervous about his debut that he kept texting teammate Munchie Legaux, looking for reassurance in the days leading up to the game.

His debut was about as reassuring as it gets.

Kiel tied Cincinnati’s record with six touchdown passes on Friday night, and the Bearcats got a big early lead and held on for a 58-34 victory over Toledo in their season opener.

“He exceeded my expectations,” coach Tommy Tuberville said. “I didn’t think he’d play that well.”

Kiel, a transfer from Notre Dame, showed off his strong and accurate arm from the outset. He completed a 52-yard pass on the game’s opening play from scrimmage and hardly missed as Cincinnati (1-0) pulled ahead 34-0, throwing for four touchdowns in the first half.

Overall, Kiel was 25 of 37 for 418 yards with six touchdowns that matched Tony Pike’s school record.

“I came out real nervous,” said Kiel, who sat out a year after leaving Notre Dame and was criticized back in South Bend. “The whole week I think I had butterflies. We came out firing. All I had to do was drop back and throw it. We have some unbelievable receivers.

“For me, I think I silenced the critics. People were bashing me.”

Cincinnati scored touchdowns on its first six possessions, with Kiel missing on only three passes.

“Their quarterback made every throw,” Toledo coach Matt Campbell said. “We have some young guys playing in the secondary. Those kids battled back. I appreciate that. Our offense did what they needed to do and got us back in the football game.”

Toledo (1-2) rallied with three straight touchdown passes from sophomore Logan Woodside, who moved into the starting job after junior Phillip Ely tore up his right knee last week during a loss to Missouri. Woodside had touchdowns of 38 and 54 yards to Alonzo Russell, who got behind the secondary both times.

Jeremiah Detmer’s 36-yard field goal cut it to 41-34 in the opening minute of the fourth quarter. The Rockets piled up 214 yards in the third, with Cincinnati held to minus-2. Part of the problem was that Kiel was getting cramps and couldn’t step into his throws. He left for the locker room late in the quarter to get intravenous fluids, then returned and stopped Toledo’s comeback.

He completed all six of his passes for 70 yards during a touchdown drive that put the Bearcats back in control. His 22-yard TD pass with 1:36 left got him a share of the school record. Each touchdown pass went to a different receiver, a sign of the Bearcats’ depth at the position.

“The talent we have in the receiving corps is amazing,” said Mekale McKay, who had nine catches for 175 yards and a touchdown.

Toledo gave up 41 points in the first half and couldn’t contain Cincinnati’s receivers, who often were wide open.

“Giving up 41 points in the first half is something no defense wants to be a part of,” Toledo linebacker Trent Voss said. “I was embarrassed personally and for our defense.”

Cincinnati was the last FBS team to open this season. The Bearcats drew 31,912 fans for the game at Paul Brown Stadium, their home this season while their on-campus Nippert Stadium is renovated.

Cincinnati has a lot of work to do on defense before it plays at Ohio State on Sept. 27. Toledo piled up 563 yards with Woodside leading a diverse offense. Woodside was 27 of 40 for 322 yards and three TDs.

Toledo’s best threat is sophomore running back Kareem Hunt, who has topped 100 yards in eight of his 15 games. He ran for 136 yards in an opening win over New Hampshire, and picked up 148 yards and three touchdowns against Missouri, running behind a line that features five seniors.

Hunt ran 12 times for 101 yards and a touchdown.

Legaux completed his comeback from a gruesome knee injury, getting into the game for the final series of the first half. He tore two ligaments and cartilage in his left knee during the second game last season.

Legaux was 4 for 5 for 18 yards during his one series.

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Follow Joe Kay on Twitter: http://twitter.com/apjoekay

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