LOUISVILLE — With a chilled, rain-drenched crowd chanting his name Friday night, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater guided his unbeaten and No. 16-ranked team to a second straight dramatic Big East Conference win.
Bridgewater threw for a career-high 416 yards after a shaky start and freshman kicker John Wallace converted a game-winning 30-yard field goal in overtime as the Cardinals outlasted Cincinnati 34-31.
“I heard the crowd,” said Bridgewater, who after hitting just 5 of his first 18 passes finished 24-of-41. “When they do that, it just gives me confidence.”
Wallace’s kick came after Bearcats coach Butch Jones called timeout, moments before the snap sailed through the hands of holder Will Stein. Given a second chance, Louisville (8-0, 3-0 Big East) executed the field goal flawlessly and kept its hopes of a BCS bid alive.
“I didn’t say anything to (Stein) or (Wallace),” Cards coach Charlie Strong said. “It’s about execution at that point. When I saw (the first snap) go over Stein’s head, I said, ‘Oh, God.’ But they called timeout.”
Cincinnati (5-2, 1-1) failed to score on its overtime possession as Terell Floyd intercepted a badly underthrown pass by Munchie Legaux in the end zone on third-and-9 from the 24.
Legaux completed just 13 of 28 attempts with three interceptions for 157 yards, and his final pick denied the Bearcats a long field goal try.
“Munchie made some big plays for us,” Jones said, “but the number one thing you can’t do in overtime is turn the ball over. Throw the ball away, kick the field goal and give your defense a chance. He’ll learn.”
Louisville grabbed a 31-24 lead with 1:56 left when Bridgewater hooked up with DeVante Parker for a 65-yard catch-and-run touchdown. Parker made a man miss and then slalomed across the field from left to right to complete the play.
But Cincinnati rallied to force overtime when Legaux feathered a 26-yard scoring strike to Damon Julian at the 1:03 mark.
Deriving an edge from field position, Cincinnati took a 17-14 lead into halftime. It ran 17 of its 19 first-quarter plays inside Louisville territory, playing with a wind of 14 miles per hour at its back, and cashed in with Tony Miliano’s 47-yard field goal and a 14-yard touchdown run by Ralph David Abernathy.
In the second quarter, the Bearcats turned Maalik Momar’s tipped-ball interception of Bridgewater into a 19-yard touchdown drive. Legaux faked beautifully to Abernathy on second-and-goal from the 4 and waltzed in for the score.
The Cardinals scored in the first quarter on Jeremy Wright’s 1-yard run, giving them a short-lived 7-3 lead, and with 2:38 left before halftime on Senorise Perry’s 8-yard run — his eighth touchdown in the last four games.
Bridgewater was just 9 of 22 at halftime for 154 yards after entering with a 73.4 percent completion rate. But his coaches and teammates never lost faith in the sophomore from Miami, the linchpin recruit in Strong’s three-year building project that is paying big dividends every week.
“When you have Teddy, you know he’s going to make plays for you,” Strong said.
Asked if this is the biggest victory of his college career, Bridgewater said he hadn’t even thought about where it rated.
“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “We have overcome adversity and it’s just a good feeling right now.”
George Winn ran 26 times for 125 yards for Cincinnati. Despite outrushing Louisville 196-108 and owning 10-point leads in each half, the Bearcats couldn’t finish off what would have been their biggest win of the season.
“It’s a hurting locker room,” Jones said. “The guys gave us everything they had. I felt like we did a much better job of playing our tempo, but they made one more play at the end.”
NOTES: Cincinnati DE Walter Stewart, whose 40-start streak ended last week at Toledo, missed his second straight game with what’s being termed an “upper-body injury.” There is no timetable for his return. … The magic number for Louisville has been 20. It’s 21-4 under coach Charlie Strong when scoring 20 points. … Strong picked up a 15-yard unsportsmanlike conduct foul with 12:22 left in the first half when he argued too vigorously with officials after Anthony McClung muffed a punt and recovered it in the end zone. By rule, it is a touchback … Jones might have also cost his team a Louisville TD with a first quarter decision to decline an illegal formation foul which would have stuck the Cards with a 2nd-and-17 from their 18. Given 3rd-and-7 at the 28, Louisville converted and was in the end zone three plays later.