By Derek DeBurger

Sometimes you just need a reminder that your sweat glands still work, and the cardiac Cards did that, with a nail-biting 31-24 victory over the Virginia Cavaliers.

A slow start

Louisville came out of the gate a bit sluggish. Virginia, a two-win team the Cards were completely aware of, arent exactly a two-win team that you should go through the motions with.

After trading stalled drives, the Cards marched down the field and quarterback Jack Plummer threw a touchdown to former five-star quarterback turned tight end Joey Gatewood. Thursday’s touchdown marked the first in a Cardinals uniform for Gatewood.

There would be some more back-and-forth trading until Louisville would find life by forcing and recovering a Cavs fumble. Louisville had great field position and was poised to score until a botched field goal hold caused the Cards to fall flat on their faces.

The down feeling would only last so long, as the Cards forced a three-and-out, followed by a blocked punt recovered by wide receiver Jimmy Calloway in the endzone for a touchdown. The special teams score was the first blocked punt touchdown since 2013 in a game against U Conn.

Louisville took a 14-0 lead into the half.

An unorthodox halftime

So many times this year the Cards have come out of the locker room at the half on fire and rearing to go. This was not one of those games.

Virginia received the second-half kickoff and moved the ball down the field almost at will. Louisville bent, but didn’t break as safety Trey Franklin ripped the ball out of a Virginia player’s hands for a highlight-reel-worthy interception.

The momentum was back on the Card’s side. They went on an eight-play 71-yard drive only to again have the special teams let the offense down as kicker Brock Travelstead missed a 35-yard field goal.

At this point, it was a 14-0 Louisville lead. Virginia quarterback Anthony Colandrea led the offense on an 11-play drive for a touchdown. This was the first touchdown the Cards had given up in 11 quarters. It was then a 14-7 lead. Plummer threw a pick-six on the first play of a new Louisville possession, tying the score at 14-14. After shutting down Louisville’s flailing offense, Virginia running back Perris Jones fumbled the ball, only for wide receiver Malik Washington to recover the fumble and take it 42 yards for a touchdown. Louisville now found themselves in a 21-14 deficit.

On the offensive scoop-and-score, Jones had gotten injured on the play. Once it was understood what was going on, all the life had been sucked out of L&N Stadium as both Louisville and Virginia medical staff attended to Jones before being carted off the field.

Between the 21 unanswered points and the horrifying injury, it seemed as if all hope was lost. The Cards were destined to suffer their second loss of the year, and the dream season was about to take a long walk off a short cliff. When it seemed like there could be no belief, “Joker and the Thief” by Motherwolf played over the stadium speakers. A simple song may not seem like it could have influenced the outcome of a game, but as it played it was almost as if all the negativity washed away from players, coaches, and fans alike. The Cards went into the fourth quarter a completely different team.

After drawing a pass interference penalty on a deep shot to wide receiver Jamari Thrash, the Card’s offense was off to the races. The Cards would be forced to settle for a field goal, but those three points provided all the confidence needed.

Virginia continued to drive on offense, but a crucial third-down sack from defensive lineman Ashton Gillotte forced the Cavs to settle for a field goal of their own.

On the next Louisville drive, Plummer would find wide receiver Ahmari Huggins-Bruce wide-open for a 52-yard touchdown to tie the game 24-24. This was Huggins-Bruce’s only catch of the game, but he would still finish as the Cards leading receiver.

Louisville quickly stopped the Cavs offense, and on the very next play of offense running back Isaac Guerendo went 73 yards for a touchdown and the lead.

Virginia wasn’t done fighting. They went right to work, picking up first downs and moving the ball down the field. The Cards would come up big, though, getting pressure on Colandrea forcing an incompletion on fourth down, and sealing the hard-fought victory.

Louisville would win 31-24.

After recovering our breath, some analysis

Louisville had enormous trouble dealing with Virginia’s no-huddle offense. Virginia stacked the box and basically dared Plummer to throw it deep, significantly slowing down the offense through the first three quarters. Yes, the most important thing is that Louisville escaped with the win, but teams going forward will use this game as a blueprint for thwarting Louisville’s game plan.

Head coach Jeff Brohm has plenty of new puzzles to assemble in improving his team, but he’s done a fantastic job of it all season long. The Cards will also have an extra two days of rest, something Brohm stressed the importance of in his post-game press conference.

Louisville improves to 9-1 on the year for the best start to a season since 2016, and 6-1 in the ACC with an all-but-guaranteed trip to Charlotte at the end of the regular season.

Photo Courtesy // Chris Carter, U of L Athletics