Louisville clips Southern Miss, 31-28
95-yard kickoff return spurs Cardinals in bowl victory
The Associated Press
ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. -- Justin Burke threw for a pair touchdowns and Jeremy Wright scored on a 95-yard kickoff return Tuesday night to help Louisville beat former Conference USA rival Southern Mississippi, 31-28, in the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.
Burke tossed scoring passes to 11 yards to Cameron Graham and 10 yards to Josh Chichester while the Cardinals (7-6) erased a 14-point first-half deficit, then produced a go-ahead field goal in the fourth quarter.
Austin Davis threw 205 yards and two touchdowns to become Southern Mississippi's career TD pass leader, moving ahead of Brett Favre and Lee Roberts in the Golden Eagles' record book with 53 in three seasons. The Southern Miss quarterback also scored on a 17-yard reception from receiver Quentin Pierce.
Wright's long kickoff return made it 28-all early in the fourth quarter. Chris Philpott's 36-yard field goal gave the Cardinals their first lead with 6:30 remaining.
Davis completed 19 of 32 passes, including TD throws of 32 yards to Pierce and 8 yards to Zeke Walters for the Golden Eagles (8-5).
In addition to becoming the Southern Miss career TD pass leader, the junior moved into second place on the school's career passing list with 7,396 yards -- 299 short of the 7,695 Favre threw for from 1987-90. Meanwhile, Desmond Johnson scored on a 62-yard run and finished with a season-high 107 yards rushing.
The win enabled Louisville to finish Charlie Strong's first season as a head coach with the Cardinals' first winning record since 2006.
Bilal Powell rushed for 75 yards for Louisville -- well below his season average of 120.9 -- however the 215-pound senior was instrumental in helping the Cardinals exhaust most of the clock after finally taking the lead.
Although they were meeting for the first time in a bowl game, there's a long history between the former conference rivals. The Cardinals and Golden Eagles faced each other every season from 1978 to 1991 and both were members of C-USA 1996 to 2004, the season before Louisville moved to the Big East.
Southern Miss scored on its first two possessions, taking a quick 14-0 lead on Pierce's TD reception and Johnson's long run that left Louisville's defense, which ranked 11th nationally during the regular season, looking sluggish and bewildered. The Cardinals didn't flinch, though, methodically climbing back into the game with help from linebacker Antwone Canady's fumble recovery, which set up Powell's 6-yard touchdown run and enabled Louisville to pull even at 21-all late in the first half.
Strong inherited a team that went 4-8 last season and was co-coach of the year in the Big East after the Cardinals' better-than-expected finish in the conference, achieved despite not having starting quarterback Adam Froman for the team's four games in November.
Burke completed 20 of 32 passes for 178 yards in his fifth consecutive start for the Cardinals, who went 3-2 in those games. He scrambled 19 yards on third-and-3 before throwing his TD pass to Graham to trim Louisville's deficit to 14-7 early in the second quarter.
Southern Miss answered with a seven-play, 64-yard march that Davis finished with his first his only reception of the season. The redshirt junior quarterback from Meridian, Miss., circled to his right out of the backfield after handing off to receiver Kelvin Bolden, who handed to Pierce as he was heading around left end.
Davis became the Golden Eagles' career TD pass leader on the first play of the fourth quarter, finding Walters in the right corner of the end zone to snap a 21-21 tie. The lead lasted 15 seconds, as Wright took the kickoff on the left side of field and eventually made his way to the right sideline to finish the longest return in the short history of the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl.