CINCINNATI (AP) — Munchie Legaux has a defining drive to go with that familiar name.
For the first time in his career, the junior quarterback had to lead his team the length of the field in the final minutes to pull out a win. He pulled it off by throwing a 39-yard touchdown pass with 13 seconds left for a 27-24 victory over Virginia Tech on Saturday.
It meant a lot for the Bearcats (3-0), whose unproven quarterback who grew a lot in the final 2 minutes.
"I proved to myself that in tough situations, I can handle it," Legaux said on Tuesday. "What more do you want to ask for than a game like that? Down by four with a minute and some seconds left and no timeouts."
He passed the ultimate test and earned new respect from teammates who were curious to see what he would do when the pressure was on.
"There was no panic at all," offensive lineman Austen Bujnoch said. "We knew we had a great chance to win with the confidence he had. He was calm and collected. He wasn't rah-rah. He was to the point: 'We're going to do this thing, guys.' You could just see in his eyes he had that determination to win."
The Bearcats have won outright or shared three of the last four Big East titles by pulling out games in the end, fabulous finishes that reference points for their quarterbacks.
During the 2009 season, the Bearcats overcame a 21-point deficit in Pittsburgh for a 45-44 win and the league title. Tony Pike led Cincinnati 61 yards in 63 seconds for the winning touchdown, a 29-yard pass to Armon Binns with 33 seconds to play.
Last season at South Florida, Zach Collaros led the Bearcats 70 yards in seven plays, scoring on a 2-yard run with 12 seconds left for a 37-34 win that helped them get a share of the title.
Legaux took over for Collaros this season with one overriding question: Could he do the same thing when everything was on the line?
"Like South Florida last year and Zach," Bujnoch said. "Zach had that same look on him. I think on offense we were all waiting to see that from Munchie, and we definitely saw it from him on Saturday. His eyes — he definitely had something else in him."
The Bearcats got the ball back on their own 15-yard line with 1:43 to play and no timeouts. Legaux ran for 17 yards on the drive and completed 3 of 7 passes for 68 yards, including the winning 39-yard pass to Damon Julian in the end zone with 13 seconds left.
Legaux got knocked to the ground as he released the final throw and didn't know what happened until he saw the Cincinnati fans erupt.
"It's one of those moments you can't explain," Legaux said. "The ball's in the air and you're just hoping somebody catches it. I look to the sideline and see our crowd going wild and I'm like, 'Wow, he really caught it!' Just a feeling I can't explain.
"The offensive linemen were coming up to me and hugging me and telling me, 'You're the man, we did it, we won.' I was just confused for the moment because I've never been part of anything like that."
Legaux spent a lot of time in his backyard in Louisiana pretending he was leading a last-minute drive, but got to pull one off as a prep star. Last Saturday, his chance finally came.
"As a little kid, you dream of things like that," he said. "Playing in your backyard, you dream of throwing a game-winning touchdown, winning a game with 2 seconds left. That's what we did — a dream come true.
"That was one of the greatest games I've ever played in."
His grandmother back in Louisiana was watching the national telecast up to the moment Legaux started the winning drive and the television station switched games. His grandparents gave him his nickname when he lost his front teeth as a child had had to munch on his food until the new ones grew in.
His grandmother heard about the ending from another relative and called to congratulate him.
"She didn't get a chance to see the last drive because they cut the game off to show the LSU game," Legaux said. "She was mad."
Legaux was the Big East's offensive player of the week for his performance — 19 of 42 for three touchdowns and a career-high 376 yards. Coach Butch Jones has been urging him to make better decisions — Legaux still has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long rather than throwing it away or running when nothing else is there.
"Where he does have to take his greatest strides is in the overall management of the game," Jones said on Tuesday. "In the 1-minute drill, he did a great job managing the game."
He seems to have won over his teammates as well.
"I figured some guys on that last drive were like, 'Let's see what he's made of,'" Legaux said. "Coach Jones is always preaching that the mark of a great quarterback is to go and win on the road."
Just what he did.
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