Upset Special; Cards down USF, 24-20

Louisville (5-2, 1-1) downed No. 14 South Florida (6-2, 1-2), 24-20, in a hard-fought Big East conference game Saturday afternoon at PJCS.

Fans can argue if Saturday's win over South Florida was the signature win in the Steve Kragthorpe Era at the University of Louisville.

But you can't argue that it was definitely a significant one.

Led by quarterback Hunter Cantwell the Cardinals rallied back from a fourth-quarter deficit to beat the 14th-ranked Bulls 24-20 in front of 40,384 fans at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

"I'm really proud of our football team, the way they played today, the way they started and continued to fight, battle and persevere today in a see-saw battle against a very good Top 20 football team," Kragthorpe, UofL's second-year coach, said afterward. "I'm really proud of the way our guys responded. There were a couple of situations in the game where it looked like they had a chance to recapture the momentum. We had it a couple of times and gave it back to them a little bit, but our guys found a way and that's what it's all about.

"You walk in our locker room and our equipment room and there's a big sign that says, 'Find a Way,' and that's what we did today. We found a way."

Cantwell led the way for the Cards (5-2, 1-1) as they picked up their first Big East Conference win of the season. The senior ran for one touchdown and passed for two more - including the game-winner to Scott Long with 7 minutes, 7 seconds remaining - as UofL notched its second win over a ranked opponent (the first was last year at 15th-ranked Cincinnati) under Kragthorpe.

Hunter Cantwell had a big day against USF.

"It was a big win," Cantwell said. "A big win for the program, a big win for the city. It's good to go out and get a win for the city, for each other, and the coaches...If you're the head football coach for the University of Louisville people expect a certain style of play and a certain number of wins. That's everybody outside our family. We just got to stay together and keep playing hard."

Louisville was led by its offense , which gained 323 yards of total offense against a defense that came in ranked seventh in the country in that category (260.43 yards per game), just as much as the defense, which came in 10th nationally against the run (86.33 ypg) and held the Bulls to a school-record low eight rushing yards on 24 carries. UofL sacked South Florida quarterback Matt Grothe five times - Adrian Grady and Earl Heyman had two each - and intercepted him twice to offset his 344 passing yards and two TDs.

"Louisville did some good things, certainly getting pressure on our quarterback, especially in the fourth quarter," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "Containing Grothe is hard, he's a heck of a player," Heyman added. "He's a competitor and he's got a lot of heart. He's a tough kid, I hit him one time and he just got back up and smiled at me. When you're out there playing against a player of that type of caliber and that type of skill you just have to keep going after him."

The game had a thrilling finish, but it started rather slowly.

South Florida (6-2, 1-2) took a 3-0 lead early in the second quarter on Maikon Bonani's 32-yard field goal. That capped a 12-play, 57-yard drive by the Bulls that was helped by a roughing the passer penalty on UofL middle linebacker Chris Campa on third-and-11 from the Louisville 45.

The Cards wasted no time in answering. On their first play following the kickoff Cantwell connected with Long over the top for a 69-yard touchdown.

The Cards' defense continued to keep South Florida's offense in check, sacking Grothe for a 13-yard loss back to the USF 7 a little more than midway through the second quarter to pin the Bulls deep in their own territory.

That led to good field position for UofL's offense on the Cards' ensuing possession, and that paid dividends. After a short South Florida punt the Cards started on the Bulls' 42. It took UofL just four plays to reach the USF 1. The two biggest gains on the drive were a 14-yard swing pass from Cantwell to Brock Bolen and a 17-yard run by Victor Anderson. The latter gave Louisville the ball on the USF 1, and led to Cantwell's scoring dive with 50 seconds left in the first half.

As it turned out that was too much time to leave the Bulls. Grothe quickly drove South Florida downfield, completing 4 of 5 passes to set up Bonani's 24-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in the half.

In the third quarter the Cards hurt themselves more than they helped themselves.

Early in the third quarter they couldn't corral Grothe inside his own 10, he escaped two would-be tacklers in the backfield, before unleashing 34-yard completion to Dontavia Bogan. Three plays later, though, Grothe was intercepted by Woodny Turenne.

But on UofL's ensuing possession a huge play - a fake-punt run by punter Corey Goettsche - was called back because of holding. It forced the Cards to punt.

Then on UofL's next possession USF linebacker Kion Wilson picked off a Cantwell pass that Long bobbled into the air. The Bulls turned that turnover into points. The key play on the drive was Grothe's 31-yard pass to Taurus Johnson. Grothe was hit as he released the ball and Johnson came back to get the ball, beating Sergio Spencer to it. Two plays later Grothe connected with fullback Richard Kelly for a 3-yard TD pass. The Bulls went for two, and the tie, but were flagged for offensive pass interference on the play. That forced Bonani to kick a 35-yard PAT to trim Louisville's lead to 14- 13.

The Cards responded on their ensuing possession, driving inside the USF 15. But the drive stalled and UofL had to settle for a 34-yard field goal from Ryan Payne. Payne made his first attempt from 29 yards, but the Cards were penalized for illegal formation and Payne was forced to kick again. He connected for his first career field goal 59 seconds into the fourth quarter. It was the beginning of a fourth quarter that was full of momentum swings.

The Bulls quickly answered Payne's field goal. They drove downfield, led by Grothe. The USF quarterback completed 6 of 6 passes, many on crossing routes by his receivers, including a 15-yard TD to tight end Ben Busbee. The PAT made it 20-17 South Florida.

The Cards came right back, though. UofL needed only six plays, and one USF pass interference penalty, to get to the end zone. Cantwell connected with Long for a 24-yard TD with 7:07 to play. Payne's PAT made it 24-20.

Both teams held the other on their ensuing possession when South Florida took over at its own 20 with 3:43 to play. On the second play, though, Grothe was picked off by Johnny Patrick when he was under heavy pressure from Heyman.

The Cards then looked to run out the clock, but USF's defense stepped up, forcing UofL to try a field goal. Payne missed wide right from 37 yards, but on the play the Bulls were flagged for defensive holding. It was their 14th, and costliest penalty, of the game.

"Again they committed a holding penalty, there's no doubt 27 pulled up," Kragthorpe said. "We've seen it in film and we knew they'd try to do it again."

All the Cards had to do then was run out the clock.

"We had a couple of tough losses early on and we kept in our minds that we need to finish this season out strong and great things can still happen this season," center Eric Wood said. "This is a big win, but we have another game next weekend. The tough thing about playing all your non-conference games early is that down the stretch these all count big time. You can't ride your high horse too long because someone is there ready for you the following week."

The Cards continue conference play next Saturday when they travel to Syracuse.

NOTE: Wide receiver Trent Guy missed the game due to illness.

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