The Louisville Cardinals pulled out a 39-34 victory Saturday over the North Carolina Tar Heels. North Carolina made a late push, but Louisville was able to hold on for the win.
“It was a tale of two halves," coach Charlie Strong said after the game. “Where in the first half we were unstoppable on offense, taking the ball every drive and scoring. Defensively we were able to make plays allowing them only one score. The reason we won is because of our fans and the excitement and energy that they brought into the stadium.”
“This is a big time game and a big time atmosphere for us and our fans are the ones who provided that energy for us,” Strong added. “When we walked out there you could feel the energy and excitement.”
Louisville exploded offensively in the first half and went into halftime up 36-7.
Sophomore quarterback Teddy Bridgewater had 218 of his 279 passing yards in the first half. Bridgewater also threw for three touchdowns.
Louisville was able to run the ball constantly during the entire game. Running back Jeremy Wright had 114 yards rushing and one touchdown. Senorise Perry added 87 yards on the ground and one touchdown.
Defensive end Marcus Smith and the Cardinal defensive line put plenty of pressure on UNC's Bryn Renner in the first half. Renner was forced to rush his passes and made several mistakes, causing North Carolina to only have 167 total yards on offense.
“From what I can remember from the first half," UNC coach Larry Fedora said after the game via UofLSports.com. “It looked like a lack of effort, a lack of intensity, a lack of passion, a lot of mental mistakes, you name it; whatever could go wrong went wrong in the first half.”
The second half belonged to the Tar Heels. UNC chipped away at Louisville's lead, controlling the tempo and silencing Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
Bryn Renner threw 207 of his 363 passing yards in North Carolina's second-half run.
The Tar Heels defense also picked up their intensity, holding the Cardinals to just 102 yards of total offense in the final half. UNC's front line put plenty of pressure on Teddy Bridgewater, after not putting any pressure on him in the first half. The Tar Heel defense sacked Bridgewater three times in the second half.
North Carolina found themselves down by only five points with just under two minutes left in the game. UNC's offense was 4th-and-goal on the Cardinals' 4-yard line. Renner passed it to senior wide receiver Erik Highsmith, who was cutting in the middle of the end zone. Louisville's Andrew Johnson knocked it out of Highsmith's hands, sealing the Cardinal victory.
“My assignment was man-to-man,” Andrew Johnson said about his big defensive play. “They had beat us earlier in that same route, so I knew they were going to come back to it. I made sure to get inside and that gave me leverage to knock the ball out.”
Louisville is now 3-0 and will start their three-game road trip against Florida International next Saturday. Last season the Cardinals were upset by FIU, 24-17.
Jon Hancock is a contributor for Bleacher Report. Unless otherwise noted, all quotes were obtained firsthand.