PISCATAWAY, N.J. — After Thursday night's game, Louisville quarterback Teddy Bridgewater was wearing a boot on his injured left foot and a brace on his broken left wrist. He said he was playing at "70 percent," and that planting to throw the ball was incredibly painful.
And he still led his team to a championship.
During a week in which Louisville announced it was leaving the Big East for the ACC, the Cardinals (10-2 overall, 5-2 Big East) captured the title of their current conference with a 20-17 win at Rutgers (9-3 overall, 5-2 Big East).
With the win, the Cardinals are headed to the second BCS game in their history, and their first since 2006.
The Cardinals, who were down 14-3 deep into the third quarter, were resilient, and no one showed more determination than Bridgewater. Because of Bridgewater's injuries, quarterback Will Stein started the game for the Cardinals. Bridgewater's entry midway through the first quarter seemed to give the team a lift.
Bridgewater hobbled and gutted his way to a great performance. He completed 20 of 28 passes for 263 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. He said that if Louisville was clicking on offense, "I wasn't going to play at all."
His insertion was key in Louisville holding the ball for a staggering 42:11 of the game as the Cardinals offense systematically moved the ball down the field.
Now, in large part through the force of Bridgewater's example, Louisville is likely heading to the Orange Bowl or the Sugar Bowl.
"Knowing you have him out there gives you a different kind of feeling," safety Calvin Pryor said. "A different kind of trust."
Bridgewater led the Cardinals to two touchdowns in a crucial 16-second scoring burst late in the third quarter to give his team a 17-14 lead. Rutgers would tie the game midway through the fourth quarter, but after Gary Nova was intercepted with 3:53 left in the game, Bridgewater took over. Five plays and 35 yards later later, John Wallace's 29-yard field goal gave Louisville the game-winning score.
"This is what we set for at the beginning of the season. Our No. 1 goal was to win the Big East and make it to a BCS game," Bridgewater said. "We're just proud and we're enjoying this moment."
The win capped off a dramatic few days for Louisville, who earlier this week announced it was leaving the sinking ship of the Big East for the greener pastures of the ACC. The move, which opened up when Maryland and (ironically) Rutgers joined the Big Ten as part of the conference's expansion, puts Louisville in prime position in the ACC.
But on Thursday night, the Cardinals were savoring their latest Big East accomplishment.
"It was just so key for us to go win this football game and just to get the BCS. At one time, we were 9-0 on the season and I wanted us to finish off the right way," Louisville head coach Charlie Strong said. "Just with a loss, it would have left a bad taste in our mouth because we didn't finish. For us to get the BCS and the conference, it turns a good season into a great season with a win."
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