CINCINNATI -- Isaiah Pead very nearly earned himself a dubious place in Cincinnati football history.
Late in the first half, Pead lost a fumble while stretching the ball out toward the West Virginia goal line and with his team trailing 14-7. It would have been the first lost fumble by a Bearcats running back all season.
But Pead got a reprieve, as replay officials overturned the call and awarded Cincinnati a touchdown in the night's most controversial moment. It saved not only Pead's backside but perhaps the season for the No. 5 Bearcats, who survived 24-21.
"[Teammate] John Goebel came up to me on the sideline and said, 'You just went from zero to hero,'" Pead said.
The reversal helped the sophomore secure a much better legacy, as the player who most helped his team notch its first 10-0 start in school history. Making his second career start in place of the injured Jacob Ramsey, Pead ran for a career-best 175 yards on 18 carries.
It was that last stat that most surprised him. Cincinnati doesn't hand the ball off much, and when it does the pigskin usually gets spread around. No Bearcats back had carried it 18 times since Ramsey did so last year against Pitt. Pead's previous high was 16 this season.
Head coach Brian Kelly even broke out some option Friday night, with quarterback Zach Collaros making quick pitches to Pead on the edge. Kelly said that was a way to counter West Virginia's defense, which double-teamed receivers Mardy Gilyard and Armon Binns but left its three-man front open to the running game.
Pead's biggest play came after West Virginia was stopped on 4th-and-8 from the Cincinnati 24 with 5:23 left. He went left and darted through tacklers for 43 yards, setting the Bearcats up for what turned out to be the winning field goal. He also had a 52-yard run earlier in the game before tripping up.
"I have a tendency to fall," he said. "I'm still trying to get my feet moving with my brain."
As Friday showed, he is close to putting everything together and becoming Kelly's latest backup-turned-superstar. Pead grew up in Columbus, Ohio, and rooted hard for Ohio State all his life. But when he felt the Buckeyes didn't recruit him with enough zeal, he opted to go south and play for Kelly. Here he may build quite a lasting place in Cincinnati football history.
"You've got great backs in this league, and finally we can show our league and the country we've got one, too," Kelly said. "We knew what we had with Isaiah. He's just getting more featured."