LOUISVILLE -- Before Saturday's game, Louisville coach Charlie Strong was hoping his team could survive the first quarter against North Carolina's no-huddle, quick-tempo offense.
Turned out the 19th-ranked Cardinals had nothing about which to worry -- until the last 12 minutes.
In cruise control mode with a 25-point lead, Louisville suddenly collapsed and required a goal-line stand to secure a 39-34 win over the Tar Heels at Papa John's Stadium.
It appeared that North Carolina quarterback Bryn Renner had connected with Erik Highsmith on his sixth touchdown pass of the day on 4th-and-goal from the 4 with 1:44 left. But backup cornerback Andrew Johnson ripped the ball out of Highsmith's hands before the senior wide receiver could get his feet down and the pass fell incomplete.
The Tar Heels (1-2) scored 20 straight points in a 7-minute, 39-second span to draw within five points, then forced and recovered a fumble on a kickoff return to regain possession with 4:15 left. Renner, who finished 26-of-41 for 363 yards and five scoring strikes, guided them to the 3 before a false start penalty pushed them back to the 8.
A four-yard rush by Romar Morris set the stage for Johnson's dramatic play that kept the Cards unbeaten at 3-0.
Quarterback Teddy Bridgewater enjoyed his third straight brilliant performance, completing 23 of 28 passes for 279 yards and three touchdowns. The Cardinals' alternating running backs, Jeremy Wright and Senorise Perry, rushed for 114 and 86 yards, respectively, as their offensive line blew open huge holes in the North Carolina front seven.
Perry's 13-yard touchdown run less than 5 1/2 minutes into the game kicked off a first-half avalanche. It was followed by Bridgewater's 32-yard scoring strike to a wide-open Charles Gaines and John Wallace's 22-yard field goal for a 15-0 first-quarter lead.
In the second quarter, Bridgewater connected with Eli Rogers on a 15-yard touchdown pass, Wright slashed 12 yards off left tackle and Nick Heuser caught a four-yard scoring pass from Bridgewater. Louisville finished the first half with 360 total yards, 19 first downs and a 36-7 advantage.
Notes: North Carolina coach Larry Fedora and Strong served as assistants at Florida during 2003-04. Fedora was the offensive coordinator and Strong was the defensive coordinator ... The teams completed the second game of their two-year series that was agreed to after Tennessee dropped the Tar Heels prior to last season ... It was the final game of a season-opening three-game homestand for the Cardinals. They won't appear at home again until Oct. 20 as they play three straight on the road with an open date mixed in.