The Louisville football team hadn’t been to a bowl game since losing to Mississippi State in The Taxslayer Bowl on December 30, 2017. Last year’s squad ended the season four-games shy of bowl eligibility, and the first Cardinal team coached by Scott Satterfield was not expected to finish much better.
Defying all expectations, the Cards beat NC State 34-20 for their sixth win of the year and a bowl invitation.
NC State was looking to break a three-game losing streak and start winning again if they had any hope of a bowl game.
Louisville’s odds are a bowl game were much better, but the fabled sixth win had still eluded them and they were being worn down by injury.
Mekhi Becton, the armored truck taking the form of an offensive lineman, was out this game with an injury, and his loss was sorely felt by the Cards. There were offensive line issues for most of the first half, with runs getting stuffed early and Micale Cunningham having little time to try and throw passes.
Luckily for Louisville, NC State wasn’t playing very well either. Neither team scored in the until the second quarter, with the Cards connecting on a 43-yard touchdown pass to Dez Fitzpatrick with just under 12 minutes to go in the first half.
The Wolfpack could only respond with a field goal to make the score 7-3. They would take the lead with four minutes left to go on a 15-yard touchdown pass.
The Cards could not reply, and the halftime score was 10-7 Wolfpack.
Louisville played sloppy for most of the half, having issues with tackling as well as getting any offense together.
Whatever halftime adjustments were made seemed to have worked, as the Cards scored on a massive 74-yard pass to Tutu Atwell on their first possession of the third quarter to take a 14-10 lead.
The Louisville defense then recovered a NC State fumble on the next possession to get the ball back. And two plays later, Cunningham threw another touchdown to Marshon Ford, but the PAT was no good to get the lead up to 20-10.
They increased the lead with a short touchdown pass to Ean Pfeifer with just under five minutes to go in the third.
The Cards weren’t out of it yet though, less than a minute into the final quarter the Pack threw a 16-yard touchdown pass to make the score 27-17.
On the Cards next possession, they were stopped on third down on the NC State seven-yard line, and Ryan Chalifoux and the Louisville field goal unit came out for the kick. Chalifoux had missed his only other field goal of the game, and this time instead of kicking the Cards ran a fake that saw the kicker throw a laser to Marshon Ford for a seven-yard touchdown pass. Chalifoux then nailed the PAT.
NC State kicked a field goal on their next possession to make the score 34-20 Louisville. The Pack moved the ball down the field and into scoring position in the waning minutes of the game but could not convert on fourth down and sealed the victory for the Cards.
While the Louisville defense had problems stopping The Pack in the first half, they had no problems forcing turnovers. They forced three fumbles, recovering two and intercepted a pass.
Micale Cunningham finished throwing 13-20 for 242 yards and four touchdowns.
Javian Hawkins was the Cards’ leading rusher, running for 67 yards on 16 carries. This puts him over 1,000 yards for the season, the first Louisville back to do so since Bilal Powell in 2010.
Tutu Atwell caught five passes for 110 yards and a touchdown as Louisville’s leading receiver. Dez Fitzpatrick and Ean Pfeifer each caught one touchdown pass. Marshon Ford caught two.
Louisville moves to 6-4 on the season (4-3 ACC). NC State falls to 4-6 (1-5 ACC).
The Cards return home looking to get the best bowl position possible as they face Syracuse on November 23.<