Cards fall short against USF in overtime

Louisville (5-5, 2-3) scored late in the fourth quarter against South Florida Saturday at PJCS to force overtime, but fell short, 24-21, in the extra period after Justin Burke was stopped on fourth and one inside the Bulls five yard line.

Football is often described as "a game of inches."

Saturday that proved to be all too true of a painful description for the University of Louisville.

The University of South Florida stopped the Cardinals on fourth-and-inches from inside the 5-yard line in overtime, then Bulls kicker Maikon Bonani buried a 37-yard field goal to give USF a 24-21 victory over UofL in front of 43,887 stunned fans at Papa John‘s Cardinal Stadium.

"It was a very tough loss, especially to see them battle back and get the game into overtime," Cards coach Charlie Strong said. "But it was my decision to go for it on fourth and an inch. We were running the football and decided that we could control the football and get the first down and then go get the touchdown...the strength of our team is our offensive line and you feel like we can go out and get an inch with them."

But the Cards couldn't. The Bulls stuffed UofL quarterback Justin Burke on a quarterback sneak on the fourth-and-inches play - one that was upheld by booth review but may not be in the minds of the Cards.

"I thought I did (get it)," Burke said. "But it's not up to me, and it's not up to South Florida either."

It was a bitter end to a game in which Louisville built a 14-3 lead, then lost it, then battled back to tie the game in the final minutes of regulation and force an overtime - which came only after Strong iced Bonani with a second straight timeout before a 52-yard field goal attempt.

Burke passed for three touchdowns and Bilal Powell, in his first game back after sitting out last Saturday's victory over Syracuse with a knee injury, rushed for 140 yards.

"He gave us a real spark offensively, that's the reason he's the best back in the country - you can't turn him off," Burke said.

However Powell's performance and a solid outing by the defense wasn't enough, as the Bulls (6-3, 3-2) kept the Cards (5-5, 2-2) from becoming bowl eligible.

For awhile it looked like Louisville would earn that all important sixth win Saturday. The Cards built a 14-3 lead as Burke sandwiched touchdown passes of 20 and 2 yards to Andrell Smith and Josh Chichester, respectively, around a 39-yard field goal by Bonani.

But Lindsey Lamar's 100-yard kickoff return on the heels of Chichester's TD catch changed the game, and the momentum.

"It was real deflating," said UofL senior linebacker Brandon Heath, who led the team with 10 tackles.

Louisville led 14-10 at halftime as it allowed South Florida just 68 yards of total offense. Bulls' running back Demetri Murray almost equaled that with his 67-yard run early in the third quarter that set up Bonani's 22-yard field goal that trimmed UofL's lead to 14-13.

USF took the lead early in the fourth quarter on B.J. Daniels' 48-yard touchdown pass to Dontavia Bogan.

"What we said as a defensive staff is that the only way (Daniels) would have scored was to scramble and throw the ball over our head and that's what happened on that play," said Strong, whose team out-gained the Bulls on offense 328 to 259. "There was no pressure. We had a blitz called and they got in a formation where we couldn't run the blitz, and then they just threw the ball up over our head."

Still, the Cards rallied back. Burke engineered a nine-play, 46-yard scoring drive that he capped off with a 10-yard TD toss to Josh Bellamy with 1:21 remaining in regulation.

But the Bulls had a chance to win the game in regulation. Andrea Shields returned Chris Philpott's kickoff 41 yards to the UofL 40.

"The kicking game is something we have to address," said Strong, whose team was also plagued by eight penalties for 63 yards.

The Cards stopped USF at the 35, forcing Bonani to try a 52-yard field goal. He made his first attempt, which came just after Strong had called a timeout, but missed his second try.

The Cards controlled their own destiny in overtime. They ran the ball five straight times for gains of 3 or more yards until Jeremy Wright was stopped for a 1-yard gain on third-and-2 at the USF 5.

That's when Strong made the call to go for the first down.

"The strength of our team is the offensive line, so you feel like if we get behind them we're going to get an inch," Strong said. "And we ran the ball every snap until we got it down there. We got third-and-a-yard and then fourth-and-an-inch. You just feel like we can go get this inch.

"You figure we've been moving the football that far so we felt like we could get it, last week we did it at Syracuse. Then if you go and kick a field goal and they go match your field goal you're staying in overtime."

The Cards host West Virginia next Saturday before closing out their regular season on Nov. 26 at Rutgers.

"We still have two games left, we still have a chance to go get bowl eligible," Strong said. "But we didn't play well enough to win a football game (today). If it's fourth-and-an-inch and we can't get an inch we don't deserve to win the game."

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