CINCINNATI, Ohio (WDRB) -- In the land of bourbon, we now have another spirit. Vintage Bridgewater.
What else can you call what happened in the fourth quarter of the University of Louisville's 31-24 overtime win at Cincinnati on Thursday night? The Cardinals were listing in the cold rain that fell in Cincinnati's Nippert Stadium, trailing 14-10 with 9:17 left and the ball at the Bearcats' 38-yard line. Then junior quarterback Teddy Bridgewater blew some life into his team.
On fourth down he dropped back to pass, but was flushed out when a blitzer crashed straight up the middle. If Bridgewater goes down, you can change the channel. The way this one was going, there wasn't much life left.
But Bridgewater brushed away that tackle, then spun, threw a stiffarm to make the tackler miss again, then took off. He skirted out of the outstretched arms of another tackler, then got loose. Cincinnati linebacker Nick Temple engaged him at the 37-yard line. Bridgewater tried to push Temple away has he grabbed his arm, spinning the quarterback to face him. But Bridgewater kept his legs moving. With his back to the first down marker, he dragged Temple, tightroping the sideline, trying to escape his grasp, until he fell out of bounds at the Cincinnati 30, seven yards from where the linebacker first grabbed him, and safely past the first-down chain.
From then on, every time the Cardinals touched the ball, they scored. Three plays after Bridgewater's 14-yard scramble, he again faced a big blitz on third-and-8. Again the pressure came straight up the middle into his face. Bridgewater sidestepped it, wobbled, steadied himself, moved right, and with the pocket collapsing and four Cincinnati blitzers bearing down, heaved a sidearm pass into the corner of the end-zone, where Damian Copeland was there for the catch, a 22-yard TD strike that put U of L up 17-14.
When he saw Copeland come out of the corner of the end zone with the ball, U of L linebacker Preston Brown said: "SportsCenter, Top play."
That it was.
"I was just trying to make a play, trying to stay alive and get out of the pocket," Bridgewater said. "As I was kind of scrambling out of the pocket, I saw Copeland breaking downfield, and I just trusted that he would beat the defender."
Said offensive coordinator Shawn Watson: "We have rules in our offense, what to do when a play breaks down, spots to run to, spots to throw to. The throw was amazing. Teddy started to scramble out and he couldn't make it out, and he saw Copeland take off, and he basically threw it in the spot where Copeland was told to go. Copeland did a great job running it, Teddy did a great job throwing it, and he basically made an impossible play."
On the sideline, U of L coach Charlie Strong at first thought Bridgewater was throwing it away. Then he saw Copeland's reaction.
After the game, Bridgewater ran over to find his mother, Rose Murphy. You think these folks aren't into it? Her son could be a millionaire in the NFL very soon, and what was Murphy yelling as her son spun backwards looking for a late-game first down? "Run, Teddy, run!"
Bridgewater said he told his mother, "I feel like I want to cry. Tears of joy. I'm just proud of this team. We showed that we have heart and we still have a lot to play for. It's not about us, it's about this brand on the front of our jersey."
This was a team in need of something good to happen. Watson acknowledged that after the game. He said that after losing to Central Florida, the team felt the departure of attention and respect.
"We fought a lot of things after that loss," Watson said. "It lingered for a while. Our kids needed what happened today."
Bridgewater, in fact, had a subpar first half on Thursday. He didn't let it rattle him. "Composure will take you a long way," he said after the game.
From the time of Bridgewater's fourth-down scramble on, as many times as the Cardinals touched the ball, they were going to score. Charlie Strong knew it. The Cardinals coach even said he didn't call timeouts as Cincinnati was driving at the end of regulation because, "We were fine going to overtime."
Bridgewater hit DeVante Parker with a four-yard fade on U of L's next possession, with Parker fighting off what is classified as mugging in some cities to come away with the ball after Cincinnati went back up 21-17. And Dominique Brown, a Cincinnati native, provided the power on the Cards' lone overtime drive, rushing for 22 of the drive's 25 yards to provide what proved to be the game-winning points.
But this was Bridgewater's night. And if it winds up being his final regular-season show, it was altogether fitting. It didn't have quite the stakes of the moment he signed his name to at Rutgers last November, but it showed sparks of that magic that U of L fans have been waiting all season to see.
He wound up completing 23 of 37 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns. But the numbers hardly illustrated what he did for the Cardinals Thursday night, nor what he has meant to this program.
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