Cards slip past Southern Miss

Trent Guy and Ryan Payne combined to make it a happy homecoming for the University of Louisville football team Saturday night. And a happy night for coach Steve Kragthorpe.

Guy's 64-yard kickoff return, which came on the heels of Southern Mississippi's go-ahead score, set up Payne's 32-yard field goal with 30 seconds remaining to give the Cardinals a 25-23 win over the Golden Eagles in front of 37,268 fans at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

With rumors rampant regarding Kragthorpe's future, UofL rallied from a 16-7 halftime deficit for its first win over a Football Bowl Subdivision foe in nearly a year (since Oct. 25, 2008's 24-20 victory over South Florida).

"We came together as team tonight, we've been fighting adversity tonight, and really all season, and we just rallied around our coach," said senior wide receiver Scott Long, who had a career night with five catches for 146 yards, including a tide-turning 92-yard TD. "We just wanted to rally behind (Kragthorpe) and show him we had his back, because we know he has ours, we did it for him."

The Cards did it with offense, rolling up a season-high 439 yards on the ground and through the air against a Southern Miss squad that came in 22nd nationally in total defense (286.6 yards per game). In addition to Long, Adam Froman completed 14 of 26 passes for=2 0248 yards and a touchdown (he also threw an interception) in his second career start, while Victor Anderson rushed for 90 yards and a score and Bilal Powell added 58 yards and a TD.

"Huge win for us," Kragthorpe said. "I'm just so proud of our team, the way they fought and clawed back after they were down 16-7."

UofL found itself down 23-22 with 2:13 to go after Tory Harrison's touchdown run and Justin Estes' extra -point kick. But Guy, who fumbled away a late punt in the loss to archrival Kentucky on Sept. 19, returned Dan Hrapmann's ensuing kickoff 64 yards to the Southern Miss 30.

"I took the field knowing my team needed a big play, either a touchdown or good field position, and I did it," said Guy, who was a key reason why UofL came in leading the Big East Conference, and ranking fifth nationally, in kickoff returns (29.6-yard average).

Following four runs Payne, the bare-foot kicker from California, connected for the game-winner to complete a nine-point comeback by the Cards (2-3, 0-1 in the Big East).

"I was nervous as heck," said Payne, who improved to 7-for-10 on field goals tries this season. "I am just glad my team could put me in a position to kick a pretty easy kick of 30 yards...It was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, I might not ever get the chance to do it again, so it's an amazing experience."

"Having the game on the your shoulders and stepping up and having to do that, he did a great job," Froman added. "I walked up to him, looked him in the eyes and told him that I believed he could do it. And, he did it."

Southern Miss (3-3) built a 16-7 halftime lead in spite of what had been a difficult week for the team. The Golden Eagles found out they lost starting quarterback Austin Davis to a foot injury for the remainder of the season at the beginning of the week, then at the end of the week walk-on punter Peter Wilkes (who was not traveling with the team) suffered a gun shot at his home in Memphis, Tenn.

But the Golden Eagles showed no ill effects from either early. They got a 39-yard punt return from Tracey Lampley, after holding UofL to three-and-out on its first possession, to set up a 36-yard field goal by Estes less than four minutes into the game.

The Cards responded with their longest scoring drive of the season. Showing the kind of offensive pace that UofL fans were more accustomed to in the Bobby Petrino Era, they drove 88 yards in a variety of ways in nine plays. There was a 14-yard pass from Froman to Long, a 15-yard end-around run by Guy, an 11-yard pass from Anderson to Froman (a former standout wide receiver in junior college) and an 11-yard bull rush by Powell before Anderson capped his 12-yard TD run by leaping into the end zone.

USM answered with a seven-play, 74-yard drive that ended in another Estes field goal (this one 21 yards) with 3:45 left in the first period. On that drive Golden Eagles quarterback Martevious Young - who was making his second career start - picked on UofL cornerback Andrew Robinson, who had previously played his entire career at wide receiver before making the start in the Cards' depleted secondary, with a pair of big passes to DeAndre Brown. Shortly thereafter junior cornerback Johnny Patrick switched with Robinson to cover Brown, who finished with five catches for 85 yards.

In the first quarter Southern Miss beat Louisville with the pass (for 114 yards), then in the second period the Golden Eagles did it with the run (for 70 yards). Senior Damion Fletcher rushed eight times for 53 yards and a touchdown, a 1-yard dive a little more than a minute into the second quarter, then Estes added a third field goal (32 yards) to give USM a 16-7 halftime lead.

UofL had just 30 fewer yards of offense (231 to 201) in the first half, but only had a touchdown to show for it. In fact the biggest cheer of the first half, or halftime, came when a fan won a car at intermission after kicking a 30-yard field goal. It would be a good omen for UofL.

The Cards came out after halftime and played, arguably, their best quarter of the season. UofL outgained the Golden Eagles 187 yards to 47 in the third period, and outscored them 14-0. The Cards tallied on a long drive and a Long touchdown. First, Powell capped a nine-play, 85-yard drive with a tough 13-yard TD run with 7:55 remaining in the third quarter, then on UofL's next possession Froman connected with Long for the 92-yard TD.

Facing third-and-12 from his own 8 Froman threw to Long along the left sideline. Long out-jumped two USM defenders for the football, came down in-bounds, then broke one tackle - he also got a key block from Troy Pascley - as he sprinted to paydirt. Froman then hit Scott Radcliff, a true freshman from Trinity High School, with a two-point conversion pass to give UofL a 22-16 lead.

The Cards appeared to be in control. They still were midway through the fourth quarter until USM embarked on a clock-eating, 12-play, 89-yard drive that Harrison capped with a 13-yard TD run. Estes' PAT gave the Golden Eagles the lead back at 23-22.

But that set the stage for Guy and Payne.

"We were going back and forth and we needed to prove we could win a game," said Froman, who was sacked six times in last week‘s loss to Pittsburgh, but only once Saturday night. "We were down late in the game and came back to win it. There was no quit in this team during the entire game. Nobody got that look on their face that, ‘Here we go again.' We were fired up and knew that we were going to win the entire time. "This is what we needed right here. This is going to be momentum for us. We proved to ourselves we can win a tight game, and come back in the closing minutes, the closing seconds. We're going to UConn next week, (and) hopefully get one more."

The Cards take on Connecticut at noon next Saturday.

"Winning is contagious, just like losing, so hopefully we'll start a trend here," Long said.

And Kragthorpe, contrary to some pre-game rumors, will be on the sidelines.

"I'm here for the long haul," he said, then closed his press conference by thanking the assembled media, and added, "see you on Monday."

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