CINCINNATI -- Far from perfect, No. 5 Cincinnati was good enough to stay unbeaten.
Tony Pike threw two touchdown passes in a cameo appearance Friday night, and the Bearcats overcame a self-destructive first half to beat West Virginia 24-21 for the best start in school history.
Cincinnati (10-0, 6-0 Big East) struggled offensively because of uncharacteristic mistakes -- a fumble, a dropped touchdown pass, a missed field goal, and an interception -- all in the first half.
Isaiah Pead ran for a career-high 175 yards, and sophomore Zach Collaros threw for 205 yards in his fourth start for Pike, who is recovering from an injury to his non-throwing arm.
West Virginia (7-3, 3-2) took advantage of the mistakes to keep it close.
The Mountaineers wasted a chance with 5:23 left, going for it on fourth-and-8 from the Cincinnati 24-yard line. Jarrett Brown's pass into the end zone while under pressure fell incomplete.
Pead cut across the field on a 43-yard run on the next play that put Cincinnati in position to take control. Jake Rogers' 38-yard field goal made it 24-14 with 2:08 left. Brown's touchdown pass against a soft defense cut it to 24-21 with 39 seconds left and West Virginia out of timeouts.
Cincinnati's Armon Binns recovered the onside kick to finish it off.
Pike damaged the plate in his left forearm a month ago, forcing the inexperienced Collaros to run the offense for the last four games. With a protective brace on his left arm, Pike got back on the field Friday and made an instant impact.
He completed Cincinnati's opening drive with a 10-yard touchdown pass to Binns on his first snap. He also came off the bench and finished the Bearcats' opening drive of the second half with a 6-yard scoring pass to D.J. Woods, a throw zipped between defenders that made it 21-14.
Brown played with a sprained foot and came up limping at times, but made enough important plays to keep it close. Noel Devine, the Big East's second-leading rusher, played with a sore ankle and ran for 88 yards. He was on the sideline getting his left ankle retaped during the Mountaineers' decisive drive that came up empty.
Cincinnati had been the only team in the Bowl Subdivision that hadn't lost a fumble this season. The streak ended when tight end Adrien Robinson coughed it up at midfield after a catch, setting up West Virginia's first score.
The Bearcats had another self-destructive drive in the second quarter, when Robinson dropped a pass in the end zone and Rogers then missed a field goal after a bad snap, keeping it tied.
Not for long. Fullback Ryan Clarke broke a 37-yard run on a third-and-short play, putting the Mountaineers up 14-7 midway through the second quarter. Cincinnati hadn't trailed since the third game of the season at Oregon State.
There were more Bearcat blunders to come.
Pead fumbled while diving over the pile and stretching the ball toward the goal line, with West Virginia recovering. The call was overturned on review, which indicated the ball crossed the goal line before he lost it.
That left it tied at 14 at halftime. Collaros forced a pass that was intercepted just before the break for his first interception in his four starts.