Cardinal Football

Louisville 35 – Western Kentucky 21: Cunningham Puts On A Clinic

Jamie Rhodes | Pool

It was a moment some thought might never come this year, but the 2020 Louisville Football season finally kicked off against Western Kentucky.

And while there were some clear hiccups and room for improvement, the Cards soundly beat the Hilltoppers 35-21.

This season will look nothing like previous years with a 10+1 conference focused schedule, a fraction of the normal fan attendance, piped-in crowd noise and everyone wearing face masks. Not to mention the ever-looming threat of a viral outbreak.

The ACC and the Louisville athletic program think they have a winning strategy to successfully play an 11-game season. But is this the long-awaited return to postdemic normalcy, or a vain attempt to conjure up the halcyon days before we’re all eventually pushed under by pox, plague, and pestilence?

Only time and epidemiology may tell, but it’s September and the Cards are playing football.

Both programs were in similar places last season. Their 2018 campaigns made dumpster fires look chilly, necessitating the removal of the head coach. Despite being picked to finish near the bottom of their respective conferences last season, both the Cards and WKU went on to have miracle seasons capped off by bowl victories. The two squads are looking to continue that positive momentum into this season.

Last year’s 38-21 victory over Western was an ugly one for Louisville, who had to trot out their third-string quarterback and had almost no second-half offense. WKU had most of a stout defense returning this year and would need all the help they could get as they faced the high-powered Cardinal offense.

The game didn’t begin well for the Cards. After going three-and-out in their first series, rookie punter Logan Lupo fumbled a snap that the Hilltoppers recovered on the Louisville 1-yard line. It only took one play for WKU to punch it in to take a 7-0 lead.

The rest of the half—and most of the rest of the game—was all Cards, specifically Micale Cunningham.
On Louisville’s second possession it took just four plays for Cunningham to pass almost the entire way down the field, capping the drive off with a 28-yard touchdown pass to tight end Ean Pfeifer to tie the game.

Near the end of the first quarter, Louisville forced a fumble and subsequently recovered on their own 13-yard line. Although the Tops drove them back to the one, the Cards battled exploded off Cunningham’s cannon arm to drive all the way down the field again. Cunningham finish the drive with a 14-yard touchdown run.

It was the first of three straight scoring possessions for the Cards while all WKU could do was punt. Javian Hawkins rushed for a 19-yard touchdown run early in the second quarter. And then Cunningham completed a short pass to Marshon Ford for another score as the half wound down and the Cards went into the locker room up 28-7.

Western was not done scoring though, taking advantage of another error by Louisville special teams. The Tops blocked a Cards punt and recovered on the Louisville four-yard line, running it in for a touchdown two plays later.

The Cards responded quickly with a three-play drive ending in a monster 70-yard touchdown pass to Dez Fitzpatrick to make the score 35-14.

WKU scored on a 12-yard touchdown pass with about five minutes left to go in the game, but it was too little and much too late to get back in the game.

Barring any more unforeseen circumstances or global pandemics, it will be the last time the two teams meet till at least 2026.

Cunningham completed 19 of his 34 passes for a career-high 343 yards and three touchdowns. He also rushed for 24 yards on 12 carries with one touchdown. He wasn’t perfect, however, throwing an interception midway through the third quarter.

Dez Fitzpatrick and Braden Smith were the leading receivers for the Cards, both catching four passes for 110 yards each, although one of Fitzpatrick’s catches was for a touchdown. Ean Pfeifer and Marshon Ford both also caught touchdown passes.

Javian Hawkins had 19 rushes for 71 yards and a touchdown.

Their lone nonconference matchup ending in a victory, Louisville prepares to play ten-straight conference games, beginning by hosting Miami on September 19 with ESPN College Gameday in attendance.

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