LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – Well, here's the problem with writing the column about Louisville's 62-59 win over No. 19-ranked Wake Forest on Saturday night.
I don't have enough superlatives. Can you get them on Amazon? Can I pick them up with Click List? Home Shopping Network? After the highest-scoring game in Louisville football history (for both teams combined), I need something.
How can you say enough good things about this team and coaching staff? A year ago, the wheels fell off. When Scott Satterfield arrived as coach, there were no wheels. All he could talk about was putting his arms around the players and loving them.
The Cardinals were historically bad a year ago. They were so bad that all anyone really asked of this team was that it play hard. That it not quit. That it conduct itself the right way on the football field.
How's this for conduct? In Satterfield's Atlantic Coast Conference return to his home state, those same players who packed it in last season gave Satterfield his first career win over a ranked team and the program's first over a ranked team in 1,121 days – since Lamar Jackson led them to that historic 63-20 win over Florida State in 2016. It was the program's first road win over a ranked team since 2011.
"This was great, both teams," Satterfield told the ACC Network after the game. "I've never been a part of any game like this."
Louisville did it with true freshman Evan Conley at the controls. The QB, who began the season as Louisville's third-stringer, stepped in when Micale Cunningham, who was brilliant to open the game, was banged up on a big hit in the second quarter.
Cunningham, who had completed five of six passes for 99 yards and two TDs, could've come back, but Satterfield told the ACC Network's Katie George that he was going to stick with Conley anyway. The head coach was rewarded by the freshman completing 12 of 18 passes for 196 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He was rewarded when, on the key play of the game, a fourth-and-1 at the Wake Forest 41 with a three-point lead and his defense gassed, Satterfield saw Conley roll right and sprint through a hole all the way to the end zone.
The play was only a reprieve. Wake Forest scored just one minute later, forcing a pivotal onside kick. The ball bounced off a Louisville player, squirted down the field, and a scrum ensued. When the pile was sorted out, the smallest player on the field, Tutu Atwell, was holding it. After a tense video review, Louisville maintained possession – and the victory.
It was clear from the outset that Louisville came to play. After punting on their first possession, the Cards went touchdown, touchdown, touchdown, touchdown on their next four. The first score was set up by a Rodjay Burns fumble recovery. The second was on a 55-yard pass from Cunningham to Seth Dawkins. Then there was a 100-yard kickoff return by Hassan Hall.
Hall would finish with 220 yards on four kick returns. And Tutu Atwell added a punt return of 50 yards on a triumphant night for Cardinal special teams. Dez Fitzpatrick led Louisville receivers with 5 catches for 125 yards and two touchdowns.
But it was the play of Conley that stood out. For a true freshman to display that much poise and turn in that performance was something special – just the fourth road win over a ranked team in school history. He wound up the Cards' leading rusher, with 79 yards on seven carries.
"Evan's a great competitor and he's so smart and he's worked his tail off, really, for two months," Satterfield told the ACC Network. "I'm just so happy for him, and really everybody. This was a really hard win, and to pull it out like that, great effort. The one thing we wanted these guys to do was fight and really play hard. If we continue to fight, we'll win games."
Conley gave his teammates credit.
"I didn't always play my best," he said. "I showed my age on a couple of mistakes. But I had guys making great plays around me."
Wake Forest had 668 yards, but could never take the lead. The Deacons were attempting to win their eighth consecutive game, which no Wake Forest team had ever done. Wake Forest's 102 total plays were the most ever for a Louisville opponent, and they took a toll. By the end of the game, Louisville's defense was drained – and depleted. A targeting penalty late will cost Louisville defensive captain Dorian Etheredge for the first half Saturday against Clemson.
Despite it all, Louisville, which endured a nightmare last season, posted a dream few would've dreamed of when the season began.
"I came in when this staff came in," Conley told the ACC Network. "So I heard from guys what it was like last season and some of the things that went on. But guys are hungry and work hard every day, and when you do that, good things happen."
A very good one happened Saturday night for the Cardinals.
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