Louisville scored two touchdowns in a span of 16 seconds and Teddy Bridgewater played one for the ages as the Cardinals defeated Rutgers 20-17 for a share of the Big East championship and a likely spot in a BCS bowl game.
Teddy Bridgewater did not enter the game for Louisville until the start of the second quarter, but it was worth the wait for the Cardinals. The sophomore star quarterback completed 20 of 28 pass attempts for 263 yards and a pair of touchdowns while occasionally rotating in and out with Will Stein, who kept the offense on a steady pace when Bridgewater needed a breather.
Rutgers struck early to send the second-largest crowd to see a Rutgers home game in to a frenzy. After Louisville opened the game with Stein leading a 10-play drive resulting in zero points, Rutgers wasted little time to get the scoring started. Rutgers quarterback Gary Nova completed an 85-yard touchdown pass to Brandon Coleman, who left behind would-be tacklers on his way down the left sideline. Rutgers struck again by taking advantage of poor tackling from Louisville's secondary. Mark Harrison broke loose for a 68-yard touchdown catch on what was designed to be a short dump pass over the middle with a chance to pick up a first down. Rutgers had all of the momentum with their defense playing very well in the first half despite being on the wrong side of the time of possession battle.
But the pendulum swung the other way in the third quarter.
A fake field goal attempt by Rutgers looked to be good for a touchdown but a penalty nullified the play due to an illegal man down field. Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood said after the game he did not see the player in question. Rutgers ended up having to punt the football away and try to pin Louisville deep at their 10-yard line, but Louisville accepted the challenge and pulled through with the drive of the game.
Louisville methodically moved down field 90 yards over 14 plays, with most plays accumulating no more than eight yards. A continuing rotation of Bridgewater and Stein seemed to work flawlessly with each coming through with solid plays on the drive and Bridgewater continuing to work through a noticeable limp coming on and off the field. It was on this drive Charlie Strong and Louisville sent a clear message that Bridgewater was needed if the Cardinals were going to win the game, and a short pass to Jeremy Wright saw Louisville get in the end zone for the first time of the night. Momentum was seized, but there was more to be done, and it would happen quickly.
On the ensuing kickoff Louisville's Terrell Floyd crashed in to Rutgers kick returner Jeremy Deering, knocking the football loose. Calvin Pryor recovered the loose football for Louisville to set up the Big east's leading red zone offense right on the 20-yard line. Most of the night saw Louisville try to play it safe with small to medium-yardage plays in mind, but this was Louisville's moment. More importantly, this was Teddy Bridgewater's moment.
The choice was simple. Go for the lead right now. Bridgewater dropped back to pass and he had just one target in mind. Bridgewater glanced right quickly after the snap but he was locked in on DeVante Parker running down the left sideline and just waiting for him to be in the end zone. A beautifully thrown pass form Bridgewater landed in Parker's hands as he kept his feet in play for the exclamation point on a wild 16 seconds of play that silenced Highpoint Solutions Stadium and sent the team dressed in white from head to toe in a frenzy.
Rutgers would tie the game up midway through the fourth quarter with a field goal but Bridgewater helped orchestrate a five-play, 35-yard drive to set up a go-ahead field goal by John Wallace with under two minutes to play. Louisville would hold on to the 20-17 victory when Gary Nova's fourth down pass was intercepted by Floyd, Louisville's defensive star of the night.
After the game Rutgers head coach Kyle Flood was at a loss for words when reflecting on the loss and bitter ending to the 2012 regular season, but like many in attendance had nothing but complimentary words to say about Bridgewater.
"They have a tremendous playmaker at quarterback and he made some great plays."
Kevin McGuire is the national college football writer for Examiner.com and host of the No 2-Minute Warning podcast.
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