EAST HARTFORD -- Instead of celebrating a third straight win and bowl eligibility, they walked off the field fighting off the effects of another disappointing defeat. Instead of congratulating each other, they watched the opposition give their head coach a Gatorade bath. Instead of erasing all the bad moments and memories from a season filled with frustration, the UConn Huskies simply added to that list.

There will be no bowl game for the Huskies for a second straight year. There will be no .500 season, few positives to build upon in the upcoming off-season. Cincinnati, itself playing for a share of the Big East title, ended the Huskies' season with a humbling 34-17 defeat before 33,112, who braved the cold Saturday afternoon at Rentschler Field.

"It (stinks)," said tight end Ryan Griffin, one of the few bright sports for the Huskies. "There's not much else you can say. It (stinks)."

For the second straight year, UConn finishes at 5-7. Worse, it ends 2-5 in the Big East, its worst finish since 2006. Cincinnati, meanwhile, improves to 9-3, stands even at the top of the Big East at 5-2 with Louisville, Syracuse and Rutgers and will await its bowl destination.

For the Huskies, work on 2013 begins today.

"We wanted another game, as you would expect," said senior defensive end Ryan Wirth. "All the little things matter. You have to do all the little things right. You can't shoot yourself in the foot. I'm happy to have the experience that I had, but it's over."

"You never think its going to be over. But it's really over," added senior linebacker Sio Moore. "I can't ... I love all my guys. I love my defense. We went through a lot and we fought every time we got on that field. A lot of teams would bow down but we didn't, that's the one thing I can say about my guys, we didn't quit."

The Huskies never quit, but they never seemed to find the chemistry and consistency that championship teams have. Once again, UConn killed itself with three interceptions, nine penalties, four quarterback sacks and at least a half dozen dropped passes that all worked to spell defeat and leave the Huskies wondering what might have been.

"There were games that were shoulda, coulda, woulda, no question about that," UConn head coach Paul Pasqualoni said. "We were in a lot of games this year and the past two years. Little thing here, a turnover here, a missed kick there, field position there, so my outlook on it is, as a coach, you're out there to win every game you play and it's hard to do."

A 25-yard touchdown pass from Bearcats quarterback Brendon Kay to tight end Travis Kelce and then a razzle-dazzle play where Kelce took a reverse handoff and passed the ball back to Kay for a 39-yard touchdown gave Cincinnati a 14-0 lead just three minutes into the second quarter. But UConn freshman kicker Bobby Puyol -- who was going to be redshirted but had to kick when Chad Christen suffered a muscle pull early in the week -- booted a 40-yard field goal and an extra point after Ryan Griffin went 74 yards on a pass from Chandler Whitmer to cut the lead to 14-10 at halftime.

On a first-and-10 from the 26, Griffin cut across the field on a slant, caught the ball at the 35 and was off to the races, diving the last 5 or so yards into the end zone, capping the Huskies' biggest play of the season.

"I was running for my life," Griffin joked. "I just tucked the ball away and hoped that I didn't get caught from behind."

Kelce's second TD catch of the day, a 21-yarder from Kay with 11:24 left in the third quarter, pushed the Bearcats' margin out to 21-10. UConn answered with a 15-play, 69-yard drive that took just over seven minutes with Lyle McCombs fighting into the end zone from a yard out to make it 21-17 with 17 seconds left in the third.

But that's when it all fell apart.

Quarterback Chandler Whitmer, who suffered a concussion last week against Louisville but was cleared to play by the Huskies' medical staff, took another hard shot to the head with just under four minutes left in the third quarter. He did not return to the game after throwing for 264 yards. Johnny McEntee replaced him and threw two interceptions, one of which led to a 4-yard touchdown run by George Winn -- part of 13 unanswered points by the Bearcats in the fourth quarter that blew the game open.

"Coming into this game, we were excited," Pasqualoni said. "Proud of the way the team had fought back. We put together a couple of pretty good weeks, played hard, gave ourselves a chance to have a meaningful game. This was a game of big plays and Cincinnati made more big plays and we didn't make as many. They made plays that they had to make at the end and they won the game.

"We wished that we could have done a little bit more and gone to a bowl game, but it didn't work out for us."

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