LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) — With Heisman Trophy-winning predecessor Lamar Jackson observing, Louisville quarterback Micale Cunningham showed his own ability for creating excitement with his arm and feet.
Cardinals running back Javian Hawkins and an opportunistic defense also made their marks in a hard-earned victory over Virginia.
Cunningham and Hawkins accounted for two touchdowns apiece, including one each in the fourth quarter, and Louisville made a final defensive stand to hold off the Cavaliers 28-21 on Saturday.
Getting there required rallying twice, including a 14-7 halftime deficit in which the Cardinals (5-3, 3-2 Atlantic Coast Conference) started Cunningham for one quarter before switching to freshman Evan Conley in the second for a different pace.
Cunningham was back in the pocket after halftime and delivered a Jackson-like clutch performance.
The sophomore completed 6 of 10 passes for 126 yards, most coming on a shovel pass to Tutu Atwell for a 77-yard touchdown that marked career bests for both players and a season high for Louisville. Cunningham carried 11 times for 97 yards including a 48-yarder overshadowed by an even bigger play that put Louisville ahead for good.
The Cardinals converted a late third-quarter fumble recovery by C.J. Avery into Cunningham’s 25-yard scoring run with 14:22 remaining for a 21-14 lead. After faking to Hawkins, Cunningham dashed to the left side and had plenty of room to score, pleasing a rain-soaked crowd significantly smaller than the announced 48,689.
“We needed to stay the course and run the ball because the wind was starting to get bad,” Cunningham said. “We would have to establish the running game in order for them to come up so we could hit some shots down the field.”
Hawkins added a 17-yard TD with 2:46 left for a two-touchdown cushion that proved critical as the Cavaliers (5-3, 3-2) made a last charge.
Bryce Perkins’ 4-yard scoring pass to Tavares Kelly made it 28-21 with 21 seconds left, and Virginia recovered the onside kick two seconds later at the Louisville 41. The Cavs managed just one more yard, and Perkins’ deep pass to the end zone fell incomplete in the rain as time expired.
“It was reminiscent of the Miami game to throw a ball into the end zone at the end,” said Virginia coach Bronco Mendenhall, referring to his team’s 17-9 loss on Oct. 11. “We didn’t make enough plays and obviously I haven’t coached our team well enough to make plays in settings on the road to compensate from being away from home.”
Louisville, on the other hand, answered its gut checks.
Hawkins also had a 2-yard TD run as the Cardinals outgained Virginia 360-311 on a cool, soggy day. With the 2016 Heisman Trophy-winning Jackson present for homecoming, Louisville moved within a game of becoming bowl eligible after finishing 2-10 last season.
“I was really proud of our guys, proud of our team how they continue to fight,” Louisville coach Scott Satterfield said. “In the second quarter, we’re backed up and never could get out of there. Nobody hung their head when we came in down seven at halftime, and we had a good game plan coming out in the second half.”
Virginia’s Wayne Taulapapa rushed for two touchdowns while Perkins completed 24 of 41 passes for 233 yards with an interception. But the Cavs lost for the third time in four games and missed a chance to stay firmly atop the ACC’s Coastal Division.
After the first four games without an interception, the Cardinals have six in the last four games. They also have three red-zone pickoffs the past two contests.
Virginia: Just as the Cavaliers appeared back in gear after routing Duke, they took a step back by letting underdog Louisville off the hook. They couldn’t contain Louisville’s speed and committed two turnovers, one that snuffed a chance to pad a first-half lead with the other leading to the go-ahead TD.
“We came in here and knew we wanted to score points,” offensive tackle Ryan Nelson said. “We expected to score more points, and we just didn’t execute.”
Louisville: The Cardinals have room for improvement but enter a bye one game closer to bowl eligibility, a scenario that seemed impossible when the season started. After struggling against Clemson’s defense, Cunningham’s arm and quick feet helped them overcome a 14-7 halftime deficit and break through against Virginia’s eighth-ranked defense.
Virginia: Concludes its road schedule at North Carolina next Saturday.
Louisville: Visits Miami on Nov. 9 in the first meeting between the schools since the Cardinals won 31-13 in their inaugural ACC game.
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