After a not-particularly-convincing win against Eastern Kentucky, the Cards faced a stern test in Central Florida on Friday night.
In their best game since 2019, Louisville returned an interception for a touchdown in the waning seconds of the game to win 42-35.
UCF was coming off two convincing wins to start their season and was looking to add a third. Having recently accepted an invitation into the Big 12 in 2023. They were eager to prove they belonged in the Power 5.
Louisville had split their first two games, but still had a lot of room for improvement. How they performed against UCF would be a good barometer for how the rest of the season might go.
The Cards first possession ended when a 4th and 1 play couldn’t convert. The Knights scored on their opening possession with a 41-yard pass.
Louisville finally tied it up in the final minutes of the first quarter on a 7-yard run by Malik Cunningham.
UCF responded in the opening minutes of the second quarter with a monster catch for a touchdown to take a 14-7 lead.
The Cards stayed in the game, however, marching down the field and tying it up with a short touchdown run by Jalen Mitchell.
The teams traded punts on the next three possessions, but Louisville scored the last points of the second quarter on a short pass to Marshon Ford to go into halftime up 21-14.
The Knights tied it up with a 20-yard pass four minutes into the second half.
The Cards responded nine minutes later with another Malik Cunningham rushing touchdown to regain a 28-21 lead.
UCF opened the final quarter with six-yard touchdown pass to tie it up again. But Louisville pulled out a trick play, with Braden Smith connecting with Trevion Cooley for a 45-yard touchdown pass to make the lead 35-28.
The Knights ran it in from six-yards out with just under two minutes left in the game to tie the game at 35.
Louisville got the ball on their own 25-yard line with just under a minute left. They began moving the ball down the field, but then Cunningham, who had been spectacular up until this point, threw his first pick of the night at the worst possible time.
The interception was returned to the Card’s own 41-yard line, leaving the Knights with great field position to score and win the game outright.
But Louisville’s defense showed the world that they, too, could come up with a timely interception.
On UCF’s first snap, linebacker Jaylin Alderman picked the pass off and ran it all the way back for the winning touchdown with just seconds left on the clock.
The Knights were averaging 622 yards a game coming into this matchup, but the Card defense held them to 420 yards while the Louisville offense put up 501 yards of their own.
Malik Cunningham completed 23-38 passes for 265 yards, one touchdown and an interception. He also rushed for 99 yards on 13 carries with two touchdowns.
Jalen Mitchell also had a rushing touchdown.
Marshon Ford was the Card’s leading receiver, with eight catches for 100 yards and a touchdown.
Trevion Cooley also caught a touchdown pass.
Both teams moved to 2-1 for the season.
Louisville will look to carry this momentum into their first ACC matchup at Florida State on September 25.<