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Louisville locks up bowl eligibility with 34-20 win over NC State

Cunningham’s career-high four touchdowns is the difference in this one.

NCAA Football: Louisville at North Carolina State Rob Kinnan-USA TODAY Sports

Micale Cunningham threw for 242 yards and a career-high four touchdowns, as Louisville (6-4, 4-3 ACC) secured bowl eligibility with a 34-20 win over NC State (4-6, 1-5).

The win culminates a journey that started on December 4th, 2018, when head coach Scott Satterfield was announced as the next Louisville head coach. Satterfield has turned a team that won two games last season and returned Louisville to bowl eligibility with a win tonight against NC State.

The journey to get that sixth win would not come easy for Louisville, as they had to overcome a slow start to earn their bowl eligibility. The Cardinals overcame a 10-7 halftime deficit, one that saw Louisville deal with numerous mental mistakes and pressure from NC State’s front seven.

Louisville’s only first half score was a 43-yard touchdown pass from Micale Cunningham to Dez Fitzpatrick in the second quarter. That touchdown drive came as a result of an interception by Dorian Etheridge, catching a deflected shovel pass to force NC State’s second turnover of the half.

NC State’s first turnover was a lost fumble on their previous drive, but Louisville could not get any points as Ryan Chalifoux missed wide left on a 44-yard field goal.

The Wolfpack responded to Louisville’s touchdown by scoring ten unanswered points to close the first half. Christopher Dunn hit a 28-yard field goal, and on NC State’s next drive, Devin Leary threw a 15-yard touchdown pass to Emeka Emezie to take a 10-7 lead.

NC State’s touchdown drive came as a result of great field position from Louisville errors on the previous drive. A huge sack forced Louisville into a third-and-22 situation, and an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty by Micale Cunningham after his eight-yard run pushed Louisville to punt on fourth-and-23. Mason King’s subsequent punt went 17 yards, putting the Wolfpack inside the 30 to start their inevitable scoring drive.

That drive was among many Louisville mental mistakes in the first half, as Louisville had six first half penalties and three sacks allowed. Louisville would go on to have ten penalties in the game, but did not allow a sack in the second half.

Louisville rebounded from the poor first half to strike hard and fast against NC State. Cunningham had a hat trick in the third quarter with three touchdown passes, hitting on throws of 74, 42 and one yard(s). Cunningham hit Tutu Atwell on a 74-yard strike on the first drive of the quarter, giving the Cardinals a 14-10 lead.

After Louisville recovered another NC State fumble, Cunningham hit Marshon Ford down the sideline for a 42-yard touchdown. Cunningham also found Ian Pfeifer on a one-yard lob on third-and-goal, pushing the Louisville lead to 27-10.

NC State started the fourth quarter with an early touchdown. Devin Leary hit Ricky Person, Jr. on a 16-yard pass to cut Louisville’s lead to 27-17 with 14:11 left.

The Cardinals capped off a nine-play, 47-yard drive with a seven-yard touchdown pass from Ryan Chalifoux to Marshon Ford, extending Louisville’s lead to 34-17. Chalifoux’s touchdown throw was the first by a Louisville non-quarterback since Patrick Carter in the 2007 Orange Bowl.

NC State scored the final points of the game with a 27-yard field goal by Christopher Dunn. The Wolfpack had a chance at a touchdown in the final minute of the game, but failed to convert a fourth-and-goal opportunity.

While Louisville recorded a season-low 77 rushing yards, it was their passing game that was the key to their victory. Micale Cunningham completed 13-of-20 passes for 242 yards and a career-high four touchdown passes. Javian Hawkins had 67 yards on 15 carries, but became the first Louisville running back to reach 1,000 yards since Bilal Powell in 2010.

Tutu Atwell led all Louisville receivers with five catches for 110 yards, including a 74-yard touchdown that put the Cardinals ahead for good. The sophomore now sits at 920 receiving yards and nine touchdowns, needing 80 yards to reach the 1,000 yard mark.

Dez Fitzpatrick had four catches for 72 yards and a touchdown, and two of Marshon Ford’s three catches were for scores. Ryan Chalifoux threw one of the touchdowns to Ford, becoming the first Louisville non-quarterback to throw a touchdown pass since Patrick Carter in the 2007 Orange Bowl.

NC State quarterback Devin Leary completed 24-of-44 passes for 243 yards and two touchdowns with an interception, with Emeka Emezie (eight catches, 90 yards, one touchdown) leading the Wolfpack in receiving. The Wolfpack also had 134 rushing yards, but three turnovers (including two lost fumbles) doomed NC State.

Louisville returns to Cardinal Stadium on Saturday for Senior Day against Syracuse, 4:00 p.m. ET on the ACC Network.