Cantwell hopes to be at full strength for USF

Hunter Cantwell is struggling to overcome an ankle injury sustained last month against UConn. He's had a couple of uneven performances since the injury but hopes to be back at full strength when South Florida visits next Saturday.

As homecomings go University of Louisville senior quarterback Hunter Cantwell was having possibly one of the worst ones since Carrie.

Cantwell had thrown two interceptions in the first eight minutes and 14 seconds of Saturday's game and the Cardinals quickly trailed Middle Tennessee 14-0 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium. But unlike the Stephen King novel, and later the movie, this story had a happy ending.

Cantwell calmed down and guided an offense that outscored the Blue Raiders 42-9 the rest of the way on the way to UofL's 42- 23 win.

But afterward it was hard for Cantwell not to recount the start of the game. And his reaction to his own start? Well it's probably what many UofL fans were saying after his second interception.

"Oh crap!" Cantwell recalled saying. "It was just a bad day. It's one of those things, you don't want it to happen, but it's football."

The first interception Cantwell threw came on the Cards' first possession after an MTSU punt had pinned UofL deep in its own territory. Jeremy Kellem stepped in the way of Cantwell's pass intended for Victor Anderson and returned it 14 yards for a touchdown and a quick 7-0 lead for the Blue Raiders.

"The first one they played cover two on a one-man route," Cantwell said. "I should have throw it out of bounds or in the stands. I made a mistake trying to come inside with it."

In his post-game press conference UofL coach Steve Kragthorpe said he told Cantwell as much when he came to the sidelines after that pick.

Less than three minutes later Cantwell was on the sidelines again after his second interception, this one by Ivon Hickman at the MTSU 46.

"The second one I left a little bit too inside and I tried to get the ball to Victor," Cantwell said. "Stuff happens and it's part of the game. I'm going to try to eliminate those in the future and try to learn from that, cut down on turnovers on my end and just keep playing."

Hickman returned the pick to the Louisville 39 and the Blue Raiders scored one play later on Patrick Honeycutt's 39-yard TD pass to Phillip Tanner to go up 14-0.

That brought about round two of the heart-to-heart between Cantwell and Kragthorpe that, according to the coach, was pretty one-sided.

"I challenged him and I told him you've got to settle in and lead these guys," Kragthorpe said.

But all was not lost, especially the game for the Cards. Cantwell came back on UofL's third possession and guided the Cards on a nine-play, 57-yard scoring drive. Cantwell threw only one pass on the drive, but it was a big one. On third-and -8 from the MTSU 39 Cantwell connected with Trent Guy on a 27- yard pass that gave UofL a first down at the Blue Raiders' 12. Three plays later the Cards made it 14-7 on Brock Bolen's 3- yard TD run.

They tied the score on their next possession thanks to Anderson's 88-yard touchdown sprint, but a late field goal gave Middle Tennessee a 17-14 lead.

Cantwell finished the first half have completed 6 of 11 passes for just 58 yards.

Things began to change, however, for both Cantwell and the Cards on UofL's first possession of the second half.

The Cards took the opening kickoff and marched deep into MTSU territory. Cantwell connected with Doug Beaumont for 16 yards on a third-and-long, then rushed for the first down on a fourth-and-1 at the UofL 48. Three plays later he followed that up with a 27-yard pass to Scott Long. Although the Cards' drive eventually stalled it showed that UofL's offense was going to move better than it did in the first half with Cantwell at the controls.

"The second half felt real fluid and the rust we had in the first was gone," Cantwell said.

UofL scored on three of its ensuing four possessions to take control of the game. The final drive was capped by Cantwell's first TD pass of the game, a 1-yard toss to Johnnie Burns that gave UofL a 42-17 lead.

"I thought Hunter did a good job after a little bit of a rocky start," Kragthorpe said. "He really settled in and threw some excellent balls. The ball in the third quarter to Scott (Long) was really good from a momentum standpoint. He did a good job of putting air under it and letting him run down and get it."

Cantwell was 8-for-12 for 86 yards with one TD, and more importantly no interceptions, in the second half.

He finished the game 14 for 23 for 144 yards and then faced questions about his ankle afterward.

Cantwell injured his left ankle in Sept. 26's loss to Connecticut and it still seemed to bother him in the Oct. 10 win over Memphis as well as Saturday's game.

"It's probably close to 75 percent now," Cantwell said. "I tweaked it again a little bit in the second quarter."

Cantwell said he hoped to be at full strength for next Saturday's game against 19th-ranked South Florida as the Cards (4-2, 0-1) get back to Big East action.

"Two interceptions in the first quarter is not a good thing," Cantwell said. "It definitely, definitely cannot happen in this upcoming game. South Florida is a very good team. It's not the way you want to start, but I know we had a ton of time left and we had to finish strong."

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