Senorise Perry rushed for 74 yards for the Cardinals (4-0), who trailed for the first time this season before controlling the second half and avenging last season’s 24-17 loss to FIU.
Darian Mallary and Jake Medlock both rushed for touchdowns for the Panthers (1-3), whose losses have come against teams from the Atlantic Coast Conference, Conference USA and now the Big East. FIU starts Sun Belt play next week at Louisiana-Lafayette.
Mallary and Medlock both left the game with injuries, and top FIU running back Kedrick Rhodes also missed the game with a right leg injury.
There was a group of people wearing shirts with Bridgewater’s name on the back waiting in a downpour outside the stadium two hours before kickoff, mainly friends and family awaiting his return to Miami. Bridgewater was a standout quarterback at Miami Northwestern before eventually heading north to Louisville, where he was the Big East rookie of the year last season.
He completed 19 of 36 passes for 194 yards — more incompletions in one night than he had in the first three games of the year. Bridgewater was 72 for 88 passing with a rating of 182.2 in the first three Louisville games of the season, and had gone 96 passes without an interception to start the year before he was picked off by FIU’s Johnathan Cyprien late in the first quarter.
And the Panthers, who fell behind 7-0 early on Bridgewater’s 3-yard pass to Nick Heuser, put together two sustained drives to take the lead. Mallary scored from 3 yards out to tie the game late in the first and cap a 13-play, 76-yard march, while Medlock scored from a yard out midway through the second quarter to end an 11-play, 82-yard drive for a 14-7 FIU lead.
So Louisville was playing its first road game of the year, and playing from behind for the first time all year.
Bridgewater ensured the run of firsts didn’t include the first Cardinals’ loss of 2012.
He connected with Andrell Smith on a 1-yard touchdown pass with 26 seconds left in the half, knotting the game at 14. And after FIU muffed a punt following The Opening drive of the third quarter — the first in a long series of mistakes that plagued the Panthers in the second half — Louisville was back in business.
Perry rushed for 24 yards on the first play after the turnover, 16 more on the next snap, and Jeremy Wright went the final 6 yards to put the Cardinals ahead 21-14. FIU was stopped inches short on fourth-and-1 with 8:03 left in the third at the Louisville 10, turning the ball over and starting a possession that Bridgewater capped with a 1-yard plunge 6 seconds into the final quarter for a 28-14 edge.
FIU turned the ball over on downs again with 10 minutes left in Louisville territory after a fumble sent a play awry, yet closed within a touchdown when Jacob Younger caught a 4-yard pass from E.J. Hilliard — who replaced Bridgewater at Miami Northwestern.
The Panthers had a chance to get the ball back down by seven with less than 5 minutes left, but T.J. Lowder was called for a personal foul after he ran into Louisville punter Ryan Johnson. The Cardinals ran out the clock, Bridgewater running for a key first down with just over a minute left to seal the outcome.