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Controversial call boosts Cincinnati

Gino Guidugli threw two touchdowns and Cincinnati took advantage of a questionable running-into-the-punter penalty to beat East Carolina 24-19 Saturday night.

Butler Benton ran for 127 yards and Richard Hall added 98 against the worst run defense in Division I-A. Hannibal Thomas and Brent Celek caught Guidugli's TDs, and Cincinnati finished with six sacks as it held the Pirates to 203 total yards.

That penalty helped, too.

Late in the third quarter, after East Carolina closed within 24-19, the Bearcats faced fourth and 12 from their 36. Punter Brian Steel had to move far to his left to take the snap, and Tommie Bradley charged through the line and blocked the punt while knocking down Steel.

Referee Edward Kierce immediately threw his flag while East Carolina's Zach Baker recovered the ball and raced to the 7. But Kierce called Bradley for running into Steel _ not roughing, which would have been an automatic first down _ and Cincinnati got another chance to punt.

This time, Steel got it away, and the Pirates took over on their 30.

A conference observer in the press box said it was a judgment call, and he couldn't explain why Kierce made it. He listed that play as one to ask the officials about after the game.

The Pirates have lost 16 of their past 17, including 14 of 15 with coach John Thompson, and they travel to No. 24 Louisville next weekend.

James Pinkney finished 10-of-25 for 192 yards and two touchdowns for East Carolina, and Damarcus Fox caught five passes for 161 yards, both career highs. Fullback Jermarcus Veal caught the other TD, the first of his career.

The Pirates were a bit more stingy on defense. They allowed 372 yards, well below their average of 603 going in. That total included 359 on the ground.