PITTSBURGH -- While many fans were bemoaning an 11 a.m. homecoming kickoff as they made their way into Heinz Field, the early wakeup call proved no problem for either offense as No. 18 Louisville and Pitt spent most of the first half trading lengthy scoring drives.
But it was running back Senorice Perry and the Cardinals' offense that heated up with the afternoon sun in a 45-35 victory over the Panthers.
Perry scored four times for Louisville.
Trailing 21-17, Louisville (6-0, 1-0 Big East) took its first lead of the day on the opening play of the second half. Bridgewater connected on a 75-yard touchdown pass to DeVante Parker, who badly beat corner K'Waun Williams. Not only did the Cardinals take the lead with that quick strike, but the play seemed to signal that the visitors were not going to be well-mannered homecoming guests.
"We felt we had the advantage in going deep," said Parker, who caught four passes for 153 yards, the first 100-yard game of his career. "We knew we could beat their man (coverage) and make big plays. It was a go-route, basically, and Teddy threw it up there. I knew I had the defensive back beat."
With the Louisville defense forcing a three-and-out on the ensuing possession, Champ Lee partially blocked Matt Yoklic's punt. The Cardinals then went 68 yards and took a 31-21 advantage when Perry scored from two yards out with 10:42 left in the quarter. Perry's score was set up by Bridgewater completions of 29 yards to Eli Rogers and 35 yards to Parker, who made a diving catch.
Louisville's third-quarter assault was not yet complete. After Yoklic, who had a nightmarish quarter, dropped a snap and was smothered at his own 16, the Cardinals upped the lead to 38-21 when Perry scored from one yard out with exactly four minutes remaining.
While wondering what may have hit them after taking the field for the second half, the Panthers (2-4, 0-3) collected themselves and made it a two-score game at 38-28 when Sunseri snuck in from the 1-yard line. That concluded a 12-play drive that went 76 yards, but carried into the fourth quarter and consumed 6:19.
Still, there was time. With 4:59 remaining in the game and facing a fourth-and-8 from the Louisville 22, Pitt coach Paul Chryst opted to go for it instead of bringing on kicker Kevin Harper for a 39-yard field goal attempt that might have made it a one-score game. Sunseri overthrew receiver Cameron Saddler across the middle. Louisville took over and Perry scored his fourth touchdown of the day on a 59-yard gallop down the left side for a 45-28 lead with 2:25 left.
"I felt like we could get it," said Chryst. "Our defense was playing all right. More importantly, we wanted to put it on our offense."
The Panthers took a 21-14 lead with three minutes left in the opening half when Rushel Shell vaulted into the end zone from 2 yards out. But a key sequence took place on Pitt's next possession. With 58 seconds remaining in the half, the Panthers called time and went for it on fourth-and-1 from the Louisville 42. The Cardinals threw Shell for a one-yard loss and took over from their 43 with 51 seconds remaining. A highlight-reel 27-yard catch by Parker brought Louisville to the Pitt 28. From there, John Wallace drilled a 45-yard field goal with 2 seconds remaining.
"The game changed right before halftime," said Louisville coach Charlie Strong. "The field goal got the score back to four points and we knew we would get the ball to start the second half. We also had momentum."
The Cardinals wasted no time turning the momentum in points with the Bridgewater-to-Parker connection.
"It's a very big win for the program and a confidence boost as well," Bridgewater said after throwing for 304 yards, the second-highest total of his career. "We were 1-6 in our last seven conference openers and this is a win that hopefully sends a message to the rest of the conference."
Notes: Former Pitt sports information director, college football historian and analyst Beano Cook was honored with a video tribute during the first quarter. Cook passed away Thursday at 81. ... Since starting 2-4 last season, Louisville has won 11 of its last 12 games. ... With the win, the Cardinals are 6-0 for the first time since an 8-0 start in 2006. They also evened their all-time Big East mark at 25-25. ... Bridgewater's 75-yard TD pass to Parker marked a career-long pass for the quarterback. ... The Cardinals recorded a season-high five sacks. ... With 71 all-purpose yards, Ray Graham moved into second place on Pitt's all-time list with 4,173. Tony Dorsett leads with 7,117.