Wolfpack beat Louisville in Belk Bowl

NC State took advantage of Louisville's turnovers, then held off a late rally in a 31-24 win over the Cardinals in the Belk Bowl.

Moments after Louisville's comeback bid fell short in a 31-24 loss to North Carolina State in the Belk Bowl, coach Charlie Strong was anxiously looking forward to next season instead of dwelling on the defeat.

Who can blame him?

The Cardinals finished 7-6 this season despite starting 10 freshmen, including promising young quarterback Teddy Bridgewater. So their future seems promising following a season in which they finished tied for first place in the Big East and qualified for a bowl.

"We have so much coming back next season," Strong said. "The core of our offense is coming back. On defense we lose (linebacker) Dexter Heyman, which is a big loss for us, but everyone else is back. So we'll take this team in the offseason and hope they'll continue to mature and grow up from this loss. You can always learning something from a loss and this one is going to burn."

Strong said the goal this year will be adding some difference makers, particularly at defensive end and linebacker.

"We need to do a better job of recruiting," Strong said. "It's all about recruiting. We have to continue to build and move forward."

Leading the team into the future will be Bridgewater, who had moments of greatness on Tuesday night and other moments where he appeared lost.

He threw for 274 yards and two touchdowns and ran for another and nearly brought Louisville back from 21 points down. But he was also picked off three times, making an awful decision early in the game by throwing the ball right to a linebacker three yards in front of him as he was being pressured.

Still, he never quit.

The Cardinals battled back and had one last chance to send the game into overtime after stopping N.C. State on fourth-and-1 late in the game. On a third-and-12, however, linebacker Dontae Johnson sacked Bridgewater for an 11-yard loss, setting up David Amerson's game-clinching interception.

"It's about having heart and not giving up and just that will to win," Bridgewater said.

But the hole proved too big to dig out of for the Cardinals. T.J. Graham made the most of his final game at N.C. State with seven catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns, including a 65-yard score on a nifty catch-and-run, as the Wolfpack (8-5) overcame a series of special-teams blunders to hold off a late charge from the Cardinals (7-6).

Amerson finished the year with 13 interceptions, the most in the country, while setting a new Atlantic Coast Conference record.

Louisville used a fake punt to get back in the game after falling behind 31-10.

Bridgewater threw a pair of 2-yard touchdown passes to close the gap to 31-24 with 3:55 left in the game.

The Wolfpack came into the game leading the nation in interceptions and picked off Bridgewater three times.

On Louisville's first possession, Bridgewater came under pressure and made a poor decision to try to dump the ball off, but instead threw it in the hands of linebacker Terrell Manning. Glennon took advantage, methodically driving the Wolfpack 79 yards completing 6 of 7 passes for 49 yards, including a 6-yard touchdown strike to Graham to take a 7-0 lead.

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