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Louisville holds off Memphis

The SportsXchange

LOUISVILLE, Ky. -- The No. 21 Louisville Cardinals survived a rally by the Memphis Tigers to hold on for a 24-17 victory on Saturday in frigid Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.

After Memphis had rallied from a 24-3 deficit to trail just 24-17, the Tigers forced a Louisville punt from near midfield with three minutes to go. But the Tigers were called for roughing the kicker to kill their chances to pull off the upset.

Louisville, which won its fourth straight game, improved to 10-1 overall, 6-1 in the American Athletic Conference. Memphis, which had a two-game winning streak snapped, fell to 3-7, 1-5.

"I am so happy for our team," said Louisville coach Charlie Strong. "The first time in school history that we've had double-digit wins (Louisville was 11-2 last season) two years in a row.

"I know it wasn't pretty, but to just see our seniors go out on such an emotional day (on Senior Day). ... We have a group of players that are now 21-3 in our last 24 games. This is a special group. We have a chance to get 11 wins, and not many teams can say they won 11 games two years in a row. Give Memphis credit. They made us work. They played a great game."

Louisville led 24-3 after scoring a touchdown on the opening possession of the second half. But the Cardinals stalled thereafter, and Memphis scored two touchdowns in the fourth quarter to make it interesting.

"That was a rough game, obviously," Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. "Congratulations to Louisville. They have a fine football team

"If you want to beat Louisville, you can't make mistakes. You can play as hard as you want, but that's too good of a football team to make those mistakes."

Before that fourth quarter, the story was the Louisville defense, which had limited Memphis to 167 yards with four sacks, an interception and a fumble recovery returned for a touchdown through three quarters.

Then Memphis rallied, getting a 4-yard touchdown run by quarterback Paxton Lynch and a 6-yard touchdown pass from Lynch to tight end Jesse Milleson.

Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was 26 of 36 for 220 yards, getting most of that in the second and third quarters. He had just 21 yards passing in the first quarter and 41 in the fourth quarter. He also was sacked four times.

"We knew coming in that we would have to execute on both sides of the ball and on special teams," Bridgewater said. "For us to get up and then they started fighting back -- you know those things happen. It's about how you answer. We were able to finish strong and are glad to get the win."

An interception and 36-yard return by Charles Gaines in the first quarter went for naught when Bridgewater was sacked for a 10-yard loss on fourth-and-1 from the Memphis 16. The fumble by Lynch was returned 48 yards for a touchdown by middle linebacker Preston Brown in the first quarter.

"I had a lot of emotions going through my mind," Brown said. "My grandfather died this morning, so there were a lot of emotions on me, but it was great to get a touchdown for him."

Brown made a nifty juke at about the 20-yard line to evade the last Memphis player with a chance to tackle him.

"Well, he played running back in high school," Strong said.

The defense continued to shine in the second quarter, and Bridgewater got going. Louisville held Memphis to a field goal after the Tigers gained a first-and-goal from the 1-yard line midway through the quarter, and Bridgewater threw a 39-yard TD pass to DeVante Parker on the Cardinals' ensuing possession. It was Parker's ninth touchdown catch this season.

After Louisville forced a three-and-out and a punt on Memphis' ensuing possession, Bridgewater drove the Cardinals 37 yards to John Wallace's 37-yard field goal to make it 17-3 at the half.

Louisville drove 75 yards with the second-half kickoff to a 4-yard TD run by Dominique Brown to make it 24-3, but the Cards got lethargic from there and Memphis rallied.

The Tigers' first touchdown capped a 62-yard drive, and they drove 86 yards in 12 plays on their next possession for their final score.

"They ran a lot of back-door screens and back-door handoffs on the draw," Dominique Brown said. "They did a great job."

Louisville gave Memphis the ball back at the 6-yard line after disdaining a short field-goal try because Strong said he didn't want to risk a block and run back. There were just 37 seconds left at that point, and Memphis advanced only 17 yards to the 23 before the final gun.

Lynch finished 11 of 23 for 144 yards and a TD with an interception. The Tigers ran for 135 yards after getting just 48 in the first half. Brandon Hayes rushed for 86 yards on 22 carries.

Louisville ran for 122 yards, led by Dominique Brown with 54 on 17 carries.

NOTES: Louisville junior S Calvin Pryor, who ranks second on the team with 57 tackles and is being mentioned for All-American notice, did not play for "a violation of a team rule," coach Charlie Strong said after the game. Sophomore Gerod Holliman started in Pryor's place and had two tackles. ... Twenty seniors were recognized on Senior Day for Louisville. QB Teddy Bridgewater, a junior who is widely regarded as a top-five NFL draft pick and who is expected to leave for the NFL after this season, was not recognized. He has not announced a decision whether to leave. ... Louisville had lost the previous four Senior Day games. ... Louisville is off next week and will play at Cincinnati on Dec. 5 to close the regular season. ... Memphis will play host to Temple next Saturday. ... Louisville and Memphis, which were former rivals in the Missouri Valley, Metro and Conference USA, have met 43 times, with the Cardinals holding a 24-19 advantage. ... Louisville WR Eli Rogers had to sit out the first half after incurring a targeting penalty against Houston last Saturday. Rogers, a junior who was a high school teammate of Bridgewater's, was tied for second on the team with 36 receptions and four touchdown catches. He had one catch for six yards in the second half.
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