By Sam Draut–
Kyle Bolin did not walk into Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium on Saturday morning as Louisville’s starting quarterback, but he left a hero after leading the Cardinals to a 44-40 victory over rival Kentucky.
The red-shirt freshman from Lexington, KY came into the game early in the second quarter after Reggie Bonnafon was forced to leave the game due to a leg injury on a four yard run.
Bolin, who began the year as the third string quarterback, surprised just about everyone in stadium with the exception of himself and Louisville head coach Bobby Petrino.
In his first snap of the game, Bolin completed a 10 yard pass to Eli Rogers, good for a first down.
A play later, Bolin found a streaking DeVante Parker down the sideline for a 45 yard touchdown pass which cut the Kentucky lead to 13-7.
“I wasn’t going to throw him out there, run the ball twice and punt,” Petrino said.
“If you are a quarterback at the University of Louisville, that is what is expected of you,” Bolin said. “You always have to be ready.”
Bolin’s two completions charged the crowd and energized the team after a lackluster first quarter.
“The first two were huge. He got a quick one out there to get us a first down, I believe, and then we got DeVante on a little stutter go. It was a great throw down the sideline. It was a great catch and run for a touchdown and that gave everybody confidence,” Petrino said. “That was one of the biggest things that was good to see. How everybody rallied behind Kyle.”
Petrino was confident in Bolin because of his hard work in practices throughout the year. After Bonnafon went down, Petrino began to formulate an offensive game plan that would match well with his new quarterback.
“I can’t say I was surprised,” Petrino said. “There are certain things that he got more reps at in practice. There are certain things that as you’re sitting there with Reggie laying on the ground, you think `Okay, how do we get him started. What is he most comfortable with?’ What we tried to do is give him what he’s most comfortable with. He’s always executed the empty backfield really well.”
But it was more than beginners luck for Bolin.He was able to control his emotions and lead the Cardinal offense.
“It’s kind of hard to explain. I felt it would be a lot different. Stepping in there, I felt everything was slow, calmed down. I felt like I had a lot of poise,” Bolin said.
Louisville scored on its next drive, marching 62 yards on six plays to take a 14-13 lead.
Bolin made one of his two major mistakes on the next drive: throwing an interception that was returned by Fred Tiller for a 40 yard touchdown giving Kentucky a 20-14 advantage.
Bolin responded and Louisville went 47 yards for a touchdown 45 seconds before halftime.
Bolin directed three touchdown drives in the second half, including the game winning drive that was capped off by a four yard touchdown run from Brandon Radcliff to give Louisville a 44-40 lead with 2:47 left.
On the day, Bolin completed 21 of 31 passes for 381 yards and three touchdowns.
Bolin had just three weeks to prepare as the backup quarterback after Will Gardner went down with down with a season ending injury against Boston College.
“Well, prior to Will (Gardner) getting injured, he basically got six reps a day in 7-on-7 and no team reps. He did get a lot of work on Sunday nights. That’s one of the things that we work hard. On Sunday night we take the guys in the game that played and they go condition, and everybody else practices and we try to get in as many reps as we can in practice,” Petrino said. “Once Will went down, then Kyle’s taking all the reps with the twos, but that’s still not as many as the ones. He splits the 7-on-7 reps, we have two segments of blitz and play action where he gets the equal amount there, and then in team he gets about maybe a third.”
In a rivalry filled with intense passion and recent history, Bolin’s unexpected play will define the 2014 Governor’s Cup game.
Bolin’s impressive play helped to give Louisville’s winningest senior class a final goodbye. On Saturday night, Bolin walked out of Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium with a performance for the ages.
“Before every game I kind of picture myself as myself out there playing, and it wasn’t this good. It’s just all surreal,” Bolin said. “It’s ridiculous. My team called on me to come in there and my teammates have my back.”
Photo by Austin Lassell / The Louisville Cardinal