Panthers running back LeSean McCoy, who never seemed to have complete control of the handoff from quarterback Pat Bostick, fumbled on first-and-goal at the UofL 1 and Louisville cornerback Rod Council recovered the ball with 1:10 remaining as Pittsburgh tried for the tying score. The Panthers had appeared to score a touchdown moments earlier on a pass from Pat Bostick to Oderick Turner, but after a replay review Turner was ruled down at the 1 and the Panthers were given the ball there.
"During the review we talked about blocking the extra point if it was a touchdown, or stopping them if it wasn't a touchdown, we never talked about it being a fumble," Louisville coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "The defense found a way to come up and make the play at the end of the game."
UofL's D made plays most of the game. Louisville limited Pittsburgh to 270 yards of total offense – the lowest output by a UofL opponent all season – including only 80 yards of offense through the first three quarters. The Cards, who came in ranked No. 101 nationally in tackles for loss and 104 in sacks, had eight tackles for loss and three sacks. Both tied season highs for UofL.
"I thought (the defense) played really well the first three and a half quarters," said Louisville quarterback Brian Brohm, who passed for 236 yards and two TDs against a Pitt D that came in ranked sixth nationally against the pass.
Louisville (5-4, 2-2) dominated most of the game, but let the Panthers get back into it. Pitt (3-5, 1-3), which trailed 17-7 early in the third quarter, tied it at 17 on McCoy's 7-yard TD run on fourth-and-1 at the Louisville 7 with 4:27 to play.
UofL responded with a seven-play, 70-yard drive – taking a 24-17 lead on Brock Bolen's 1-yard TD dive with 1:54 to play.
"It was a must-score situation to win the game," said Bolen, who led UofL's ground game with 11 rushes for 52 yards.
Pitt, though, wouldn't quit. The Panthers quickly moved the ball to the UofL 20 - thanks to three straight rushes by McCoy - and on second-and-3 Pitt appeared to score on Bostick's pass to Turner. The play was initially called a TD, but after a replay review Turner was ruled down at the 1-yard line.
"It's a 100-yard field, and luckily today it wasn't a 99-yard field," Kragthorpe quipped afterwards.
The Cards clobbered Pitt in the first half - outgaining the Panthers 173 to 49 - but led just 14-7 at intermission thanks to a late Brohm interception and some Pittsburgh trickery that went for a TD. UofL, which only scored one offensive touchdown in its loss to Connecticut last week, scored on its second possession against the Panthers. The Cards went 75 yards on eight plays, capping the drive with Brohm's 6-yard TD pass to Harry Douglas. Brohm went 4-for-4 on the drive for 54 yards.
UofL increased its lead to 14-0 on its next possession when Anthony Allen caught a 1-yard TD pass from Brohm just over three minutes into the second quarter. Allen did much of the work on the 12-play, 68-yard drive, rushing six times for 32 yards and catching the TD.
The Cards could've added to that on their next possession, but they shot themselves in their collective foot. They drove to the Pitt 42, but then they got a false start penalty, Brohm got sacked for a 12-yard loss, they got flagged for holding and then another false start. The drive stalled from there.
Still, UofL was in command until Aaron Berry picked off Brohm at the Cards 27 with 2:38 left in the first half. On the next play, and four days before Halloween, Pittsburgh used a trick play to cut the Cards' lead in half by halftime. Bostick swung a pass out to tight end Darrell Strong, who paused, then threw to a very wide open McCoy for a 27-yard TD.
UofL started the second half with a drive deep into Pittsburgh territory, but it stalled inside the 5 and the Cards settled for a 19-yard field goal by Art Carmody to take a 17-7 lead.
Pittsburgh couldn't muster much offense until the fourth quarter. Less than five minutes into the final period the Panthers pulled within 17-10 on Conor Lee's 35-yard field goal. The field goal was set up by a 35-yard pass from Bostick to Maurice Williams.
Pitt held the Cards on their next possession, then tied the score on McCoy's 7-yard TD run on fourth-and-1 at the UofL 7 with 4:27 to play.
That set the stage for the wild finish.
"It wasn't all on Pat, I didn't secure the ball well enough," McCoy said of his fumble. "I was trying to read the defense, but you have to secure the ball first. Things like that happen."
Louisville's next game is at West Virginia on Nov. 8. The Cards could have a healthy roster by then. Both George Stripling and Mario Urrutia saw their first action since Sept. 29's win over N.C. State against Pitt. Stripling had been sidelined by suspension, Urrutia by injury. Stripling had five rushes for 28 yards and one catch for 13, while Urrutia had four receptions for 37 yards.