A Night To Remember: Louisville 31, Cincinnati 24

Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

With a pretty high degree of certainty, I can say that there has never been a Louisville football season attached to a greater variety of adjectives than this one.

Though the validity of most of those adjectives can be - as with most everything else this season - easily debated, there's one that I think we can all agree is apt: weird. Whether you've been thrilled, disappointed or merely satisfied with everything that's taken place, I don't think you can deny that this has been a weird season.

Now going 11-1 isn't weird. I think it's a resting place a lot of fans foresaw before the season started. But going 11-1 and having no shot at the BCS with a weekend of football left to be played? Weird. A continuously raging debate over the effectiveness of an offense that, on paper at least, is putting up some of the best numbers in the country? Weird. The second half against UCF? Weird.

We all needed what happened Thursday night inside Nippert Stadium.

U of L fans needed Cardinal football to be fun again - and not "we won, you guys" fun, but "holy sh-t that was amazing, I LOVE EVERYTHING" fun. The fourth quarter and overtime period Thursday night provided that. It provided that taste early January, 2013 that we'd all been so eager to remember.

It wasn't perfect, but it didn't have to be. We gave up on perfection a while back. It just needed to be fun again.

I can't wait to have fun again in 22 days.

I_medium The primary fun-giver was, of course, young Theodore Bridgewater, who overcame a bit of a slow start to give the most memorable fourth quarter performance since...well, since he did something eerily similar in the regular season finale 12 months ago.

If Teddy were to leave us forever five minutes from now, I think this would go down as his defining play:

The Sugar Bowl is probably always going to be his most impressive overall performance, and the Rutgers game his most memorable one, but I think this is the play we're all going to think of first when we harken back to that glorious Teddy Bridgewater era (a time when we all ate unlimited chocolate and no one ever argued).

After nearly three seasons, I didn't think there was anything left he could do to elicit the combination of disbelief euphoria that this play brought out of me. I'm not sure I can remember a single individual effort from a Cardinal player more shockingly impressive.

And the crazy thing is that you can make an extremely valid case that it was the second most incredible thing he did on that drive.

That's as close to a player legitimately picking up a 4th and 12 single-handedly as you're ever going to see watching football. It was a remarkable individual effort, and if it's not made, we're probably all bickering about our 10-2 football team right now.

I could give two shits about "Heisman moments"; that drive was Teddy's moment, and it was spectacular.

When the smoke settles a little bit, I truly believe that we're going to look back at Bridgewater as the best to ever do it in a Louisville uniform. When we do so, Thursday night is going to be one of the first things we think about.

I_medium Now that we've taken care of the extreme good, we have to examine at least a little bit of the bad.

The O-line was not good Thursday night, and I think everyone is aware of it. The penalties and the blown assignments are things that could doom us in Orlando, not to mention all next season in the ACC. Obviously, Kamran Joyer going down didn't help, but Chris Acosta has started his fair share of games so the unit can't use that excuse.

The weird thing about the O-line's play is that even though they where basically the whipping boys of every agitated Louisville fan for four quarters, they created some pretty monster holes for Dominique Brown and Senorise Perry to run through. I don't know what the deal was on some of the obvious passing downs, but the running game showcased that the Cards have the personnel up front to get the job done. They just have to clean it up a little bit. Or a lotta bit.

I_medium I had no idea that Greg Blair Jr. - the guy doing the vast majority of trash talking on Twitter during the week - was the younger brother of former Pitt basketball star DeJuan Blair. He has been noticeably silent since watching the Cards carry the Keg off the field for a second straight year.

It was pretty obvious that several of the players were aware of the things being said on the other side, and they had no problem talking about it after the game.

The best part about it all this is that it's going to last for a long time. This is the Keg's permanent home, and there's nothing anyone up there can do about it.

I_medium The two Cincinnati products and former UC commits, Dominique Brown and Preston Brown, both made enormous plays with the game on the line. Dom obviously carried the load on offense during overtime, ultimately scoring the game-winning touchdown, but it was Preston's play near the end of regulation that may have led to things getting that far.

On the Bearcats' 3rd down play at the end of regulation, Preston got outside and kept containment, forcing Ralph David Abernathy to turn the play back in where a slew of Cardinal defenders were waiting.

Great to see both of those guys leaving such a positive final mark on a rivalry that obviously means a great deal to them.

I_medium As good as Teddy was, I still feel pretty good about my pregame DeVante Parker player of the game pick.

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That young man has a future.

I_medium How calming was the pre-overtime Charlie Strong/Will Stein fist-bump? It was a glorious momentary fusion of knuckles that left me with little doubt that everything was going to be all right.

I_medium We should never overlook the fact that Brandon Dunn played fullback on Thursday night, and that it was glorious.

I_medium Everyone talks about Marcus Smith and Lorenzo Mauldin, and deservedly so, but Roy Philon is so freaking good. He is an absolute force in the middle, but he's also an extremely smart football player. He reads plays correctly, knows when to stay home, knows when to bum rush the quarterback; he's just an extremely, extremely valuable player, which is crazy since he was a prominent figure in so few of the preseason conversations about this defense.

I_medium I enjoyed the fact that DeVante's second touchdown came directly in front of a group of people on the sidelines who appeared to not be behaving in the manner that people allowed to stand on the sidelines should.

I_medium Pollack and Palmer are the worst entertainment duo since Milli and Vanilli.

I_medium Four more Teddy tidbits that demand attention...

First, this quote: "I'm just excited. I actually told my mom I wanted to cry. I'm just proud of this team. We showed we have heart. it's not about us. Its about this brand across the front of this jersey."

Well, now I want to cry.

Second, Teddy showcasing his knowledge of Cincinnati's "down the drive" cheer:

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Seriously, not only is this guy arguably the best football player to ever don a Cardinal uniform, he might be the coolest.

Third, I have multiple eye-witnesses reporting that the lovely Ms. Rose Murphy (Teddy's mom) was chanting "one more year" along with a group of Cardinal fans after the game.

Does this really mean anything? Of course not, but it definitely makes you think th--OHMYGODPLEASESTAYFOREVER.

Fourth, this happened again:


Pretty cool.

I_medium The last time Louisville went undefeated on the road in a season? 1972.

Card Chronicle was not around.

I_medium As impressive as Louisville's last three scoring drives (counting overtime) were, you couldn't keep that old "why the hell don't we do this all the time" thought from creeping into your head. I mean, every time this team has had to have a score for the past two seasons, it's picked up the pace and seemed to get the job done with relative ease.

We've talked about this before, but it's impossible for even the most staunch Shawn Watson/Louisville offense defender (or supporter) to claim that this group couldn't produce more in a different style. If we went up-tempo for an entire game and just let Teddy do his thing play after play after play, does anyone really believe that Louisville wouldn't finish with more than 24 points in regulation? I know it kind of goes against this coaching staff's general philosophy, but I think it's the fact that all the pieces are there for a more exciting style that is the most frustrating thing for fans.

Watson himself acknowledged after the game that the up-tempo clearly worked better than anything else on Thursday, and that he would have to utilize it more.

There will be no point in holding anything back come Dec. 28, so I'm extremely interested to see how we come out.

I_medium I don't think there's any doubt that Senorise Perry let that fumble against UCF get into his head a little bit, which is why it was so great to see some up with such a huge performance on a national stage.

We've missed that big play potential out of the backfield badly in recent weeks, and it was nice to see our home run threat running with confidence again.

I_medium CCBM don't care.

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Probably because it's got its own damn mini Keg.

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That thing brings so many tremendous photo opportunities with it. I'm forever jealous.

I_medium In a sport where replay reviews have seemed to lengthen every game by a solid hour in recent years, I'm blown away that the AAC officials didn't bother to take a second look at Jordan Luallen's 4th and 1 run, what appeared to be a backwards pass by Brendon Kay or Teddy Bridgewater's weird interception. Game started at 7:30, guys, no one was going to be getting home too late or anything. Also, it's your f---ing job.

I_medium Speaking of Brendon Kay, what was up with his refusal to fix his right shoulder pad? It was like that the entire game, so it had to have been intentional.

First of all, I'm pretty sure that's some violation of the uniform rules. Second of all, how in the world could that possibly benefit you?

You're a mystery to me, Brendon Kay. Where do you go?

I_medium They've been harshly criticized all season, so how about a nice round of applause for the special teams? Ryan Johnson was terrific, John Wallace buried his only field goal attempt, and the kick and punt coverage was outstanding. We also got a pretty solid punt return from Michaelee Harris.

I still don't understand the whole having two guys deep on punts, but that's a nit-pick in the grand scheme of things. Special teams were really good. That's all I'm trying to say.

I_medium Charles Gaines, James Burgess, Terell Floyd, Jermaine Reve, Nick Dawson, Sheldon Rankins, Keith Brown, Lorenzo Mauldin; these are all defensive guys who are going to be back next year. And I didn't even mention Calvin Pryor. If he'd like to play another season in red and black, I don't think anyone is going to protest.

I_medium Teddy is now three scored away from setting the U of L single-season mark for touchdown passes. I'd say he has a decent shot at it.

I_medium Hakeem Smith started his 50th straight game on Thursday, tying Travis Leffew for the U of L record for most starts in in a Cardinal career. He should get the record-breaker in the bowl game.

I_medium This senior class will leave U of L having produced regular seasons of 6-6, 7-5, 10-2 and now 11-1. Progress personified.

I_medium We all wanted Thursday night to happen for our own selfish reasons, but I don't think there's any question that the team itself needed something like this. For them to make it happen in a situation where they really didn't have all that much to play for (don't tell the Bearcats, but we were going to the Russell Athletic Bowl regardless), against a team with EVERYTHING to play for, in front of a hostile crowd and with less-than-perfect weather conditions is pretty damned impressive.

The bizarro single year in a conference that turned out to be even worse than everyone was predicting has made this perhaps the strangest three months of overwhelmingly successful football ever played. We know now that the dream season we were all envisioning during the summer was an impossibility, and I'm not sure if that makes it better or worse. All I know is that it finally feels like none of that crap matters, and it's nice.

Even if that feeling eventually flees, we're always going to have Thursday night. We're always going to have 11-1, a final win over a longtime rival, and an unforgettable performance from an unforgettable player with the eyes of the sports world on us.

Forget everything else that's happened since the start of the Sept. 1. Right now, at this moment, we finally have that feeling we've been trying to grab since the start of the season.

Let's go ahead and hang onto it for the rest of the month.
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