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When Louisville needed Lamar Jackson to come up with a big play, he delivered.
After Virginia took a 25-24 lead with a touchdown and two-point conversion with 1:57 to play, Jackson led the Cardinals right down the field to win the game. The Heisman candidate moved the offense into striking distance with runs of 18, nine and seven yards before delivering a beautiful ball to Jaylen Smith in the corner of the end zone for the game-winning score with 13 seconds to play.
A two-point conversion and a sack of Virginia’s Kurt Benkert then sealed the 32-25 victory for the Cardinals, keeping their College Football Playoff hopes alive.
It wasn’t pretty for much of the afternoon for the No. 5 Cardinals, who looked sluggish from the start. Virginia, which dropped to 2-6 with the loss, controlled play for the first 40 minutes or so of regulation. The Cavs led 17-7 late in the third and had a chance to add to their lead when Jackson was intercepted by Quin Blanding. However, UVA missed a chip-shot field goal to give the ball back to Louisville.
From there, Jackson took over. He led the Cardinals on an eight-play, 80-yard scoring drive. Jackson’s eight-yard touchdown pass to Reggie Bonnafon cut the lead to 17-14 with 4:03 left in the third.
After the teams traded punts, Louisville’s defense made a big play, intercepting Benkert deep in UVA territory. Two plays later, the Cardinals took a 21-17 lead on another connection between Jackson and Bonnafon.
Louisville added a field goal on its next drive to increase the lead to seven. But despite struggling for most of the second half, Benkert and the Cavs offense put together an impressive drive to take the lead. Benkert, a transfer from East Carolina, delivered a gorgeous pass to Keeon Johnson on fourth-and-7 to set up first-and-goal. He then found Doni Dowling for a four-yard score and Albert Reid on a gutsy two-point conversion call to give the Cavs a 25-24 lead.
That set the stage for Jackson’s heroics. He used his legs plenty on the drive, but found tight end Cole Hikutini between two defenders for a clutch fourth down conversion at midfield to keep the game alive.
With two runs, Jackson moved the Cards to the Virginia 29. From there, he delivered his best throw of the day to Smith in the back right corner of the end zone to give his team the dramatic victory.
There’s no doubt Louisville played far from its best game, but it found a way to win. Jackson, with 361 yards passing and 90 yards rushing, was a huge reason why. This performance — the game-winning touchdown throw, especially — is just another line on the sophomore’s Heisman résumé.
Beyond that, Louisville (7-1) could not afford another loss and remain in the CFP picture. Now the Cardinals can sit back and hope for a Florida State win over Clemson Saturday night to give UL and Clemson matching 4-1 conference records. Clemson would still hold the tiebreaker in the Atlantic division because of its 42-36 win over the Cardinals earlier in the month.
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