CINCINNATI -- For much of Thursday night's game, Cincinnati's defense did its best to corral Louisville's dynamic senior quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, even sacking him three times.
The fourth quarter was an entirely different story.
"We're pretty athletic at defensive end," Bearcats coach Tommy Tuberville said, "but we were grabbing for air a lot of times. He out-athleted us."
Bridgewater rallied 19th-ranked Louisville from a fourth-quarter deficit, and running back Dominique Brown scored on a 2-yard run on Louisville's first possession in overtime, lifting the Cardinals to a 31-24 victory over Cincinnati on a cold, blustery evening at Nippert Stadium.
Louisville (11-1, 7-1 American Athletic Conference) earned the rivalry's coveted "Keg of Nails" after defeating Cincinnati in overtime for the second consecutive season.
"It was great to see this team finish the way they did," Cardinals coach Charlie Strong said. "You talk about a team with a lot of resiliency and heart. There were high expectations this season. I couldn't be more proud of this football team."
Bridgewater completed 23 of 37 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns, including two dazzling plays in the fourth quarter.
Sixth-year senior quarterback Brendon Kay delivered a gutsy performance for Cincinnati (9-3, 6-2 AAC), but his fourth-down pass in overtime to wide receiver Anthony McClung fell incomplete.
Kay finished 22-for-40 for 304 yards while limping on a bad ankle most of the night. He threw two interceptions and no touchdown passes.
"He did it on one leg," Tuberville said. "You can't say enough about a guy like Brendon. He's a battler."
Cincinnati grabbed its first lead early in the second half on Kay's 2-yard touchdown plunge, making the score 14-10.
Bridgewater took over from there.
First, he ran for 14 yards on fourth-and-12 to keep a drive alive.
"I knew I had to do what I could to get the first down," Bridgewater said. "I felt that nothing was open. I fought and fought. I had to keep the drive going."
On the following play, Bridgewater again eluded pressure and heaved a 22-yard touchdown pass to wide receiver Damian Copeland, putting Louisville ahead 17-14 with 8:08 remaining.
"I knew if I could lay it up there for him, he would make a play," Bridgewater said.
On both plays, frustrated Bearcats defenders appeared to have Bridgewater firmly in their grasp.
"We just ran out of gas in the fourth quarter," Tuberville said. "No. 5 (Bridgewater) took over the game. He made plays a lot of QBs wouldn't make."
After Bridgewater's heroics, Kay's 57-yard pass to wide receiver Mekale McKay set up running back Ralph David Abernathy IV's 15-yard touchdown run, putting the Bearcats ahead 21-17.
Bridgewater then engineered a 60-yard drive, capped by wide receiver DeVante Parker's 4-yard touchdown catch to give the Cardinals a 24-21 lead with 2:26 remaining.
Cincinnati kicker Tony Miliano's 26-yard field goal tied the score with seven seconds left.
Tuberville admitted following the game that he considered going for the win on fourth down rather than a field-goal attempt by Miliano, who is 6-for-15 this season.
"It crossed my mind," Tuberville said, "but you have to give yourself a chance (in overtime) at home."
In the first quarter, Louisville safety Hakeem Smith and cornerback Charles Gaines each had interceptions on third down.
Gaines' pick led to the Cardinals' first score, a 36-yard touchdown pass from Bridgewater to Parker that made it 7-0.
Linebacker Nick Temple's sack of Bridgewater stopped a Louisville drive at the 14-yard line, and the Cardinals settled for a 31-yard field goal by kicker John Wallace.
The Bearcats got on the scoreboard just before halftime when Kay capped an 11-play, 70-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run, making it 10-7.
Cincinnati held nearly a six-minute advantage in time of possession in the first half, but Louisville wound up with a four-minute edge by the end of the game.
"That was two good football teams out there tonight," Tuberville said. "We knew it would be close. We didn't disappoint anyone."
NOTES: Thursday's game was the last one played at Nippert Stadium before an $86 million renovation and expansion gets under way at the nation's third-oldest Football Bowl Subdivision stadium. Cincinnati will play its home games at Paul Brown Stadium next season before returning to Nippert in 2015. ... The Bearcats lead the series with Louisville 29-23-1. ... Louisville S Hakeem Smith tied a school record by making his 50th career start. ... Brendon Kay became just the fourth Cincinnati quarterback to surpass 3,000 passing yards in a season. ... With Louisville joining the Atlantic Coast Conference next season, the teams played their last scheduled meeting in a series that began in 1929.