MEMPHIS, TENNESSEE—With so much adversity surrounding the Louisville Cardinals they overcame it and got the job done. Eric Shelton punched the go ahead touchdown in the endzone with 6:48 left on the clock, and the Cards refused to surrender the lead, winning the Liberty Bowl by a score of 44-40.
After forcing Boise State to punt Stefan LeFors orchestrated a field goal drive that left the Broncos with no timeouts and 1:10 to score a touchdown. The Broncos drove to the 35 and with the time ticking off the clock Jared Zabransky heaved a prayer to the endzone, which was caught by Kerry Rhodes. How appropriate. The Cardinal safety that dropped the interception in the Miami game came through in the crunch time, and he predicted it.
“Coming off the field on the last drive I told Elvis Dumervil I was going to make a pick to end the game. God bless, he put me in the position to make the play, this time.” Rhodes explained.
The Cardinals won the Liberty Bowl in a way that hadn’t won games all year. They did it coming from behind. After the Cards jumped out to a 10 point lead they coughed up the ball turning it over four times, which was the most all year.
The 31-21 lead that the Broncos held at half time was the first time that the Cards had been down at the half all year. So what did Bobby Petrino tell his players at the half?
“He told us to just basically execute because when ever we execute we can score on anybody in the country,” Jones said.
Execute is exactly what the Cardinal offense did in the second half. They established the run game against the fourth ranked rushing defense. On 50 carries the Cards ran for 329 yards. Michael Bush led the way with 12 carries for 96 yards, including the play of the day. It was a trick play, which called for Bush getting a hand off and dropping back to pass. But the play broke down, and then Bush proceeded to break down the Boise State defense in Michael Vick type fashion. The play went for 25 yards and it led to the go ahead touchdown.
Eric Shelton and quarterback Stefan LeFors both rushed for 76 yards on the day each running in a touchdown. Shelton broke Louisville’s school record for touchdowns in a year with 20.
While the offense gets all the press, the defense is what won the game for the Cardinals. Louisville’s defensive line was in Boise’s backfield the entire game. U of L only surrendered 285 yards of total offense to a team that averages over 500. The Broncos rushed 38 times for just 88 yards.
“Our defense played great, you can’t say enough, I looked at the stats at halftime and they had only given up 129 yards,” Petrino said about the defense.
Overall the Cards dominated every statistical category in the game, but turnovers and bad field position led to the Cardinals rough first half.
“We started out fast in the first quarter and then we started turning the ball over,” Petrino said about his offense. “Any time you turn the ball over against a good team, it’s going to be tough to beat them.”
“What a great football game, I thought our team showed a tremendous amount of character being able to be down like that at half time, and go in at half time and make adjustments,” Petrino said about the top ten match-up.
All week drama had surrounded the Louisville coach, because of his meeting with LSU. Fans and media alike bashed Petrino because of his meeting with the former National Champion, and after the game fans held up signs telling Petrino to stay. When he entered the press conference tent a fan yelled, “So what’s the answer Bobby?”
As Petrino answered question after question you could since that “the question” would be asked. Petrino kept referring to the Louisville team as we. So a local T.V. sports guy asked, “Bobby you keep referring to next year as we?”
“I’m the head coach at the University of Louisville and I’m really proud to be that, it’s a great, great year,” Petrino said. “I can’t say enough about our players, our coaches, and our administration. This thing was all put together the right way, and it’s a great way to end it (the year).”
“We certainly hope so,” Petrino responded when asked if he’d be roaming the Cardinal sidelines in 2005.
Liberty Bowl Records Broken
Boise State’s Tyler Jones drilled a 48 yard field goal less than five minutes into the game breaking the Liberty Bowl record.
Stefan LeFors threw his third interception of the year (2nd fewest in the NCAA), Andy Avalos was the Bronco that intercepted the pass and he took it for a Liberty Bowl record of 92 yards.
Many analysts predicted lots of points in the Liberty Bowl and the analysts were right. The two squads broke records for the most points in the first quarter (24), most points in the first half (52), and most points for the game with 84.