HONOLULU -- Cincinnati knew playing at Hawaii would be no vacation.
Dustin Grutza threw a 69-yard touchdown pass to Mardy Gilyard with 4:42 to play and the No. 13 Bearcats scored 19 straight points in the wild final quarter to beat Hawaii 29-24 on Saturday night.
"We made plays like we did all year and found a way at the win to eek out a hard-fought victory," second-year Bearcats coach Brian Kelly said. "The great thing about this team is that they keep fighting and they keep playing."
Gilyard finished with seven catches for 136 yards for the BCS-bound Bearcats (11-2), who won their sixth straight game and a school-record 11th game of the season.
"To get the 11th win on the road, against a very good football team and a bowl team, that feels good," Kelly said.
Down by two touchdowns with less than 13 minutes left, the Big East champs scored nearly at will against the deflated Warriors (7-6).
"I don't know if we gave it away or they took it away," Hawaii coach Greg McMackin said. "They're a top football team and that's what great football teams do. We're a good football team. But not good enough to finish."
Gilyard took the swing pass, broke a tackle and sprinted the rest of the way, stunning the Warriors and the crowd.
"I got some pressure and I saw Mardy wide open, so he made the play happen," Grutza said.
It was Grutza's fifth touchdown pass of the season and his third completion of the game. He finished 3-of-7 for 75 yards, while starter Tony Pike was 13-of-21 for 108 yards for one touchdown. Pike also had two interceptions.
With Hawaii playing conservatively and trying to protect a 14-point lead, Cincinnati's Brandon Underwood intercepted a tipped a pass by Hawaii's Greg Alexander and returned it 20 yards for a score with 10:27 left.
"The 11 wins. It was very big," Underwood said. "We have a special group. We have a bunch of guys that understand their roles."
Cincinnati cut it to 24-20 on a 44-field goal by Jake Rogers, who drilled a 53-yarder in the first quarter.
Hawaii's Daniel Libre mishandled a handoff and was dropped in the end zone for a safety, cutting Hawaii's lead to two at 24-22 with 4:59 left.
Alexander was 28-of-42 for 275 yards for the Hawaii Bowl-bound Warriors. He completed a 16-yard TD pass to John Medeiros to give the Warriors a 24-10 lead with 12:36 left with chants of "Overrated! Overrated!" echoing throughout Aloha Stadium.
But Alexander couldn't get the job done down the stretch.
"At times, we played good enough to win. We had a 14-point leads and they made plays and got into it," McMackin said. "You've got to give them credit, but I'm really disappointed.
Kelly said the Warriors played hard and physical.
"We played Oklahoma and Hawaii hits as hard, if not harder. And in the second half, they took it to us," Kelly said.
Hawaii, seeking its fourth straight victory, scored twice in the first 5:04 of the third quarter to take a 17-10 lead.
On the ensuing kickoff, Guyton Galdeira popped the ball lose from returner John Goebel and Jayson Rego returned it 11 yards to the 5. Hawaii scored three plays later and took its first lead on a 2-yard shovel pass from Alexander to Malcolm Lane.
The Warriors committed a costly blunder that allowed the Bearcats to score the only touchdown of the first half and take a 10-0 lead.
Antwan Mahaley was flagged for a personal foul as Cincinnati converted a short field goal. The Bearcats took the three points off the scoreboard to accept a first-and-goal from the 1. They scored on the next play, on a play-action pass from Pike to Delbert Ferguson.
Cincinnati started the drive on its 48 after Alexander was stripped by Lamonte Nelms, who was arrested earlier in the week following an altercation with workers at a Cincinnati restaurant-bar.
The Warriors was able to cut the lead to a touchdown just before the half on Dan Kelly's 29-yard field goal.
Despite high emotions and numerous personal fouls, mostly by Hawaii, the game was much more civil than Hawaii's 20-19 victory here in 2002, which was marred by a postgame brawl. Cincinnati required a Big East officiating crew this time around.
The Bearcats will learn their BCS destination Sunday. The Warriors will play an at-large team in the Hawaii Bowl.
The game ended at about 10:15 p.m., or 3:15 a.m Sunday in Ohio, and closed college football's regular season.
"I think the guys will sleep very well on the plane," Kelly said.
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