Bowl's success up in the air

MARK KEAST, TORONTO SUN

, Last Updated: 8:17 AM ET

On Friday, International Bowl chief executive officer Don Loding asked this question: How does one define achievement when it comes to this inaugural game?

He'll be asking himself that question today, no doubt, digesting yesterday's University of Cincinnati Bearcats' 27-24 win over the University of Western Michigan Broncos at the Rogers Centre.

More than 26,000 fans were in attendance for a lower tier NCAA Division 1 bowl game, the first outside of the United States since 1937's Bacardi Bowl in Cuba. That's better than expected. The game was broadcast nationally in the United States and Canada.

FAN SUPPORT

Organizers have signed agreements to hold three more of these annual games. What Loding will have in his shirt pocket going forward, if yesterday's showing was any indication, are thousands of American college football fans and parents of the respective teams in the Mid-American and Big East Conferences, plus their marching bands, willing to make the trek north to watch a bowl game in a domed stadium in January.

But questions remain as to whether local sports fans deem it worthy enough to support going forward. Scalpers outside the stadium talked before the game of selling their stock below cost.

Internet chatrooms questioned the brains behind the business brawn. What do we need another bowl game for, with a third-place MAC team (Michigan) going up against a fifth-place Big East team (Cincinnati), especially outside the country? Loding said he ignored such talk, trying to focus on the positive. And as Doug Flutie reminded people this week, this was the inaugural game and it needs time to grow.

Flutie was on hand as a colour analyst for ESPN2 and TSN has the broadcasting rights in Canada. Unless organizers lost a ton of money yesterday (Loding said he didn't want to analyze it until later this week), few would argue they at least have a foundation to build on for next year.

Everyone pointed to the quality of the Division 1 product as the biggest determining factor as to whether this event will carry on. Flutie predicted an entertaining game, a physical Cincinnati team going up against a Michigan team that shows flair on offence and a willingness to blitz. And that's what both teams pulled off yesterday, the game coming down to a Broncos field goal miss from 51 yards out with just over a minute to go.

The Bearcats had built up a 24-0 lead by the second quarter, but a trick play, a 76-yard pass completion from cornerback E.J. Biggers to wide receiver Jamarko Simmons later in that second quarter, cued a Broncos comeback, culminating in a six-play, 47-yard touchdown drive on to tie the game at the 10:53 mark of the fourth quarter.

"(That play) was scripted. It gave us a real spark," said Broncos head coach Bill Cubit.

Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly agreed.

"I think our defence, with the trick play, got out of rhythm a little bit. We started thinking too much." he said.

The Bearcats would later add a field goal to take the lead. The Broncos would then storm back downfield, highlighted by three longer catch-and-run plays from quarterback Ryan Cubit to Simmons, who then dropped a third down pass. That set up Mike Jones' field goal attempt.

The result was familiar for all the Buffalo Bills fans in these parts: Wide right.


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