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Christen gives Connecticut a finishing kick

The SportsXchange

LOUISVILLE -- For Chad Christen, it was the redemption for which he's waited six weeks. For No. 20 Louisville, it was heartache and just plain aches.

Christen's 30-yard field goal in the third overtime on Saturday lifted Connecticut to its second victory over a Top 25 team in its Football Bowl Subdivision history, a 23-20 defeat of the Cardinals that threw the Big East Conference title race into a jumbled mess.

Christen, who also hit from 39 and 37 yards, the second forcing double overtime, missed four field goals tries on Oct. 13 in a 17-14 overtime loss to Temple.

Since then, the 6-foot-1, 202-pound junior has converted seven in a row, none bigger than the one he drilled to end this 3-hour, 58-minute marathon.

"I came out of that game with a different mindset," Christen said of the Temple loss. "I'm glad the guys put me in this situation and that I responded well.

"I was confident. After I made the one to force the (second) overtime, I felt like I couldn't miss."

The Huskies (5-6, 2-4 in the Big East) made only three first downs after halftime, yet still left Papa John's Cardinal Stadium with their bowl hopes alive.

UConn's defense physically whipped Louisville's offensive line and knocked quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out of the game twice, as well as setting up Christen's deciding kick.

On third down from the five-yard-line, Bridgewater tried to hit DeVante Parker on a back-shoulder throw in the back right corner of the end zone.

But Blidi Wreh-Wilson intercepted the pass, the only mistake Bridgewater made on a long, painful day which saw him overcome a broken left wrist and a leg injury to complete 30-of-53 passes for 331 yards and nearly steal victory for the Cardinals (9-2, 4-2).

"He's a soldier," Louisville wide receiver Damian Copeland said of Bridgewater. "I'm proud of him."

Bridgewater broke his left wrist when linebacker Sio Moore dumped him with a horsecollar tackle as time expired in the first half.

After staying in the locker room for treatment, Bridgewater jogged out of the locker room early in the third quarter to raucous applause from the crowd of 45,618 and returned to the game with 4:55 left in the quarter.

The sophomore quarterback led his team on an improbable 13-play, 92-yard touchdown drive in the last three minutes of regulation against a defense which had allowed only a field goal while notching five sacks.

Bridgewater's six-yard touchdown pass to Parker with 21 seconds left forced overtime and appeared to give the Cards all the momentum.

Then Bridgewater was helped off the field when Moore and Tim Willman went high-low on him, causing a knee injury on the second play of the first overtime.

After UConn took a 20-13 lead in the second overtime when backup quarterback Johnny McEntee threw a three-yard touchdown pass to Shakim Phillips, Bridgewater limped back on the field and promptly zipped a 25-yard scoring strike to Parker to force a third overtime.

"What a tough, tough kid," Huskies coach Paul Pasqualoni said of Bridgewater.

In the end, Bridgewater's Willis Reed imitation wasn't enough to keep Louisville from dropping its second straight game after a 9-0 start.

However, the Cardinals can still earn at least a share of the Big East title and possibly a trip to the Orange Bowl if they win Thursday night at Rutgers.

Cincinnati and Syracuse can also earn pieces of the regular season championship with the right results next week.

"We are still alive," Louisville coach Charlie Strong said. "We have to play better. When you look at us on offense, we were not able to protect the quarterback."

With sack yardage figured into the equation, Louisville was held to 27 yards rushing on 28 carries. The Cardinals entered the game averaging 33.3 points per game, but punted nine times and didn't score until John Wallace kicked a 19-yard field goal with 11:40 left in regulation.

The Huskies nursed a 10-0 lead into the fourth quarter. Christen banked a 39-yard field goal off the right upright with 5:28 left in the first quarter and Matt Williams ran three yards around right end for a touchdown with 10:20 remaining in the first half.

McCombs rushed 29 times for 133 yards for UConn, making him the latest running back to gash a Cardinal run defense, which entered the game yielding 161 yards per game.

NOTES: Louisville honored 13 seniors before the game, one of the smallest graduating classes in FBS. Only five of them were on the field for the first snap. ... Connecticut's Trevardo Williams, the Big East's sack leader, sacked Teddy Bridgewater twice and backup Will Stein once. ... Huskies quarterback Chandler Whitmer was knocked out of the game because of an injury in the fourth quarter and didn't return. Whitmer's status for next week's home game against Cincinnati isn't known.
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