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September 23, 2012Louisville has not lost its sense of the dramatic.
Just a week after nearly blowing a 25-point fourth-quarter lead in a three-point win over North Carolina, the 20th-ranked Cardinals had to hang on again for a 28-21 victory over Florida International on Saturday night.
Leading 28-14 after quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's second touchdown pass of the night, the Cardinals saw the Panthers cut the deficit in half on freshman quarterback E.J. Hilliard's touchdown pass with 4:53 left.
The Cardinals looked they were going to have to turn the game over to their defense when three plays gained only a yard, but FIU was called for a roughing-the-kicker penalty on the punt. Given the ball back with 4:04 remaining, the Cardinals were able to run out the clock, thanks to Bridgewater's key run for a first down on a third-and-long.
"We have a good football team and we need to go out and play well," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said after his Cardinals improved to 4-0 on the season in their first road test. "We need to play well from start to finish. We didn't do that today, but we were able to finish."
FIU, which fell to 1-3, took more than just a hit to its record.
The Panthers lost starting quarterback Jake Medlock to a foot injury, leaving the game in the hands of freshmen. Loranzo Hammonds ran the last few plays of the first half and Hilliard took over in the final two quarters.
Hilliard completed 9 of 10 passes for 82 yards in his first collegiate appearance.
"It's a lot to ask of a guy to go in there and play right away in his first year," FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. "Loranzo got a couple of runs. E.J., once he slowed down, did some things that are going to have to help us."
Medlock's touchdown plunge with 7:08 left in the second quarter had given the Panthers a 14-7 lead and put Louisville behind for the first time this season. But there was no sense of panic among the Cardinals.
Louisville tied it on Bridgewater's short touchdown pass with 28 seconds remaining in the second quarter.
"We just knew it was a 60-minute game and we had to continue to play well," Strong said. "We were down, but we knew we had enough offense. Just go out and get a stop on defense and get the ball back for our offense."
The Cardinals took advantage of two critical mistakes on special teams by the Panthers in the second half.
The first came on a muffed put by FIU's Sam Miller on the first possession of the third quarter. Instead of going three-and-out, the Cardinals regained possession at FIU's 46-yard line and scored the go-ahead touchdown in three plays.
"If you turn over the ball like that, especially after a three-and-out, as you all know that hurts," Cristobal said. "It really hurts."
The second mistake came after the Panthers had cut their deficit to seven points. They seemingly were going to get the ball back for at least one more chance after forcing Louisville to punt on the ensuing series. But freshman T.J. Lowder crashed into Louisville punter Ryan Johnson, resulting in a 15-yard penalty and automatic first down. Louisville was able to run out the clock from there.
"We don't take any team lightly," Strong said. "It's just that we didn't play well the first half. I told them, 'We're not playing well. We've got 30 minutes of football left. Let's go play.' "
NOTES: Louisville's fourth-down conversion on its opening drive was the third time the Cardinals have capitalized on such an opportunity in four tries this season. ... Louisville sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater's first touchdown pass was the 20th of his career. He added another in the second half. ... Before leaving the game with a concussion, FIU senior running back Darian Mallary became the first player in the program's 11 seasons with a touchdown in each of the first four games when he scored on a 3-yard run in the first quarter. ... FIU senior running back Jeremiah Harden rushed for a career-high 102 yards on 20 carries.