The No. 13 is lucky after all.
The University of Cincinnati football team put its foot on the gas at the start of the second half and never let up, defeating Houston 35-20 in the AAC championship game Saturday at Nippert Stadium.
Cincinnati claimed its second straight AAC crown and stood on its home field as the only remaining undefeated team in the FBS. The Bearcats became the first 13-0 team in program history.
The only question that remains is who will they play next?
"We just want to play football," said Cincinnati quarterback Desmond Ridder, who will end his career with a 26-0 record as a starter at home. "That's all we care about. We don't care who, where or when. Just put the ball down and let us play."
Cincinnati, which entered the day at No. 4 in the College Football Playoff rankings, will find out its fate Sunday at noon when the CFP selection committee releases its final Top 25 rankings.
The Bearcats are looking to be the first non-Power Five team to crack the committee's final top four and compete for a national championship.
"If it's meant to be, it will be," Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. "I don't think these guys can be denied. Just the way they've answered the bell and everything that they've done all year. It would be a shame for them to be denied."
What we learned from Saturday's win:
Seniors again lead the way for UC
The decisive stretch for the Bearcats was full of plays made by seniors.
With Cincinnati ahead 14-13 at the start of the third quarter, Ridder nearly sailed a ball over fellow senior Alec Pierce's head. But the 6-foot-3, 213-pound wide receiver made his quarterback look good by lying out for a 44-yard completion.
Pierce's dive set up an 8-yard score from Ridder to fellow senior Leonard Taylor to make it 21-13 with 12:02 to play in the third.
Sixth-year senior linebacker Joel Dublanko then picked off Houston quarterback Clayton Tune. Dublanko's first career interception led to a 21-yard touchdown connection from Ridder to Pierce to make it 28-13 with 11:03 left in the frame.
"I saw where the QB's eyes were looking," Dublanko said. "He happened to throw it my way. I stuck my hands up, it went in my hands, stayed in my hands, and I was like, 'Crap, I have the football right now.' I ran, protected it and the rest is history."
The stretch proved to be too much for the Cougars to overcome.
"The way we came out, in particular in the second half, we weren't going to be denied," Fickell said. "The seniors stepped up right before we took off for halftime. Coby Bryant, Desmond Ridder, some of those guys, and just said, 'Hey, we're going to go out here in the second half and we're going to take it.' They came out in the second half with a mission."
Jerome's in the house
Cincinnati's success offensively hinges largely on the production of Jerome Ford. The 5-foot-11, 220-pound junior running back wasted little time getting going.
On the Bearcats' sixth play from scrimmage (first play of their second drive), Ford took a handoff from Ridder and raced 79 yards for his 19th touchdown of the season (18th rushing).
Ford's score also marked the 67th of the season for Cincinnati, which set a single-season program record, besting the previous high of 66 scored by the 2009 team. That team also started 12-0 before losing to Tim Tebow and Florida in the Sugar Bowl.
Ford had another long touchdown run in the third quarter. Ford raced 42 yards before crossing the goal line to make it 35-13 at the 7:38 mark.
Ford now has eight rushes of at least 40 yards since transferring to Cincinnati from Alabama before the start of the 2020 season. Four of those went for 75 yards or more.
Ford finished Saturday with 187 yards and the two scores on 18 carries and was named the game's Most Outstanding Player.
"I'm so proud of how it's worked for him, meaning when he first came in, it didn't just happen," Fickell said. "I really do believe, and I don't think I've told him this, he embraced the culture of how we do things. meaning we don't worry about the selfishness. We take care of each other and we try to enjoy so many other things than what just happens on the football field as a group. He was able to do that, battle through that first year, maybe not getting what he expected, and it's really paid off, not just for him but for our entire team and program."
'Blackcats' put exclamation point on special season
The Cincinnati defense was absolutely dominant.
Houston (11-2) entered the day on a six-game road win streak. The Cougars had also tallied at least 21 points in each of their first 12 games and posted 31-plus points in 10 of their last 11 matchups.
Both streaks ended Saturday.
The 'Blackcats' had eight sacks, including two by Dublanko, 1.5 by fellow sixth-year senior Curtis Brooks and one apiece for Malk Vann, Jowon Briggs and Ahmad "Sauce" Gardner.
Tune, who had been one of the better quarterbacks in the nation this season, was running for his life all night.