CINCINNATI — Munchie Legaux rushed for a nine-yard touchdown on the first play of the fourth quarter Friday night as the University of Cincinnati beat South Florida, 34-17.
That’s a sentence that didn’t seem likely to ever be typed last September. It’s a moment Legaux never expected to experience.
Legaux suffered a severe knee injury Sept. 7, 2013, at Illinois in a 45-17 loss. Doctors told him and UC head coach Tommy Tuberville that Legaux’s playing days were done.
It’s a good thing for UC that Legaux didn’t listen to that initial prognosis. The Bearcats needed him Friday at Paul Brown Stadium. Starter Gunner Kiel left the game late in the first half after again taking a hard hit to the ribs, a spot on his body that has taken a beating over the last month. UC’s other backup quarterback, Jarred Evans, has been suspended from the team indefinitely after being arrested and charged with assault last weekend.
UC offensive coordinator Eddie Gran gave Legaux a heads up in the locker room at halftime that he’d be going into the game. Head coach Tommy Tuberville made an emphatic announcement to the entire team, telling his players that Legaux was going to be the quarterback in the second half. He reminded them of all the hard work Legaux had put in to be back in this position and that they all needed to rally behind Legaux.
"For the head coach to point you out — not to say that I wanted to be pointed out as an individual because I’m a team player — but it means a lot that the everyone still has faith in me," said Legaux. "With my injury, no one thought I would come back and play football again, so for me to go out there and help my team win and to score a touchdown was tremendous."
UC led 20-3 at halftime but South Florida had rallied from a 27-7 halftime deficit last week at Tulsa to beat the Golden Hurricane 38-30. Kiel had thrown for 196 yards and one touchdown while adding a rushing score in the first half.
Legaux completed 14 of 15 passes for 121 yards and added the one rushing touchdown in his most extensive playing time of the season. He played in three previous games but only in spot duty. He was 11 of 23 for 74 yards in those other appearances while rushing seven times for 25 yards. His lone incompletion Friday was a pass that got knocked down at the line of scrimmage but he completed his final 10 attempts of the game.
Legaux was 5-for-5 on third down for 42 yards and four conversions. The Bearcats didn’t ask him to be Kiel, a gunslinger who can make throws all over the field. They asked Legaux to run the offense and take care of the ball. That’s exactly what he did.
"Everyone was kind of wondering what happened to Gunner, so I brought (Legaux) up and everyone got quiet and I told them he’s our guy," said Tuberville. "He put a long year of rehab in, something most of us wouldn’t have went through and this was his moment. I challenged the offensive line, the running backs and the defense to help him out. He was a little rusty. He dropped too deep in the pocket a few times and the rush got to him but overall he did a heck of a job."
The Bearcats answered their head coach’s challenge.
UC is hardly known as a ball control offense but the Bearcats had three drives in the second half that took at least three minutes, 16 seconds off of the clock. They ran out the final 7:39 of the clock. The Bearcats rushed for a season-best 272 yards, including 212 yards by freshman Mike Boone. The defense held South Florida to just 281 yards of offense. This was easily UC’s best all-around game of the season.
Legaux’s touchdown run was the highlight.
He went down to his knees after crossing the goal line and was mobbed by teammates. The score pushed UC’s lead to 27-3.
"There were a lot of emotions running through my mind looking back at all of the hard work that went into coming back and helping my team win the football game," said Legaux. "To help my team with a touchdown was big. It was a key moment in the game and for me to go in and help my team is big. Hats off to offensive linemen. Hats off to the whole team for the camaraderie around me. They gave me the leeway that it was okay to go out and play football. ‘We’re going to protect you. Your knee’s okay.’"
Legaux had a 10-yard rushing touchdown against Purdue last year in the season opener. He threw for a score against Illinois and was denied a touchdown run at the goal line two series before suffering his injury.
"When Munchie scored, it was amazing," said senior defensive end Terrell Hartsfield. "It was just a blessing to see him back at it again being able to do the things that he’s always wanted to do. I loved it."