Rutgers blows 11-point lead, loses BCS bid
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP)
Rutgers had its first outright Big East title and a Bowl Championship Series bid in its hands and let it get away.
Instead of a celebration, there was only pain and disbelief at the birthplace of college football after Teddy Bridgewater threw two touchdown passes despite ankle and wrist injuries and Louisville rallied from an 11-point halftime deficit to a 20-17 victory on John Wallace's 29-yard field goal with 1:41 to play.
''This one hurts, and it's going to hurt,'' Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. ''It's going to hurt, but we're going to get through it as a football team. We're going to move on. We're going to get better. When we go out to play that bowl game, we're going to do it the way we do every year, and we're going to go out there to win that bowl game.''
Rutgers (9-3, 5-2) made a couple of costly mistakes.
Offensive lineman Devon Watkis was called for illegal man downfield on a fake field goal, nullifying a touchdown pass from holder J.T. Tartacoff to D.C. Jefferson that would have given the Scarlet Knights a 21-3 lead.
Bridgewater then drove Louisville 90 yards, hitting Jeremy Wright with a 14-yard touchdown pass to cut the lead to 14-10 with 49 seconds left in the third quarter.
Sixteen seconds later, the Cardinals had the lead. Jeremy Deering fumbled the ensuing kickoff and Bridgewater found DeVante Parker for a 20-yard score on the next play.
''That's why you play four quarters of football,'' Rutgers cornerback Logan Ryan said. ''There were games we were down at halftime and came back. I don't think it was ever ours. You have to take championships, take it for four quarters, and they did. They took it when it mattered, at the end of the game.''
It still hurt though.
''You put so much into this, you always feel like your heart is ripped out, when you lose a game no matter what,'' said receiver Mark Harrison, who caught 68-yard scoring pass to help stake Rutgers to a 14-3 halftime lead. ''It feels the same way with every loss, but this one had a lot on the line and we let it slip. We didn't take grasp of it. We have to wait for the bowl game now and take advantage of that opportunity.''
Rutgers probably will end up in the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla.
In a game between one team headed to the Big Ten and another bound for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East handed out its second-to-last BCS bid to a school that entered the league during its last massive rebuild in 2005 and watched its athletic program blossom.
The Cardinals will be going to the BCS for the second time, first since 2006. Either the Orange or Sugar Bowl will be the destination.
Louisville will share this Big East title with Rutgers, Syracuse and possibly even Cincinnati, but those guys only get a banner. The Cardinals get the ticket to the big game. The BCS standings will be used to break the tie and there is no doubt Louisville, with the best overall record in the conference, will be on top.
Bridgewater didn't start a week after getting roughed up in a loss to Connecticut. He broke his left wrist and sprained his right ankle. He entered for the first time against Rutgers in the second quarter and finished 20 for 28 for 263 yards.
''They have a tremendous playmaker at the quarterback position,'' Flood said. ''We just weren't able to match him in the end.''
Rutgers' last chance ended when Nova threw deep, but his receiver stopped short. Terrell Floyd made an over the shoulder interception with 1:06 left. Nova bent over and grabbed his helmet in disgust.
The Scarlet Knights, the only team that has played in the Big East since it started playing football in 1991, probably will have only one more shot to win the conference for the first time before moving to the Big Ten.
Louisville can add one of the biggest wins in school history to an already memorable week for the school, which was in Conference USA just eight years ago. On Wednesday, Louisville announced it was joining the ACC after at least one more season in the Big East.
Nova's other big touchdown pass was an 85-yarder to Brandon Coleman on Rutgers' first play from scrimmage. He finished 13 for 28 for 284 yards.
The penalty on the fake field goal changed the momentum and Bridgewater took over.
''It ended up a 21-point swing in a very short amount of time,'' Flood said. ''We were never able to swing the momentum back, and that's my job.''
Bridgewater had the Cardinals on the move again in the fourth quarter when a high pass bounced off the hands of Eli Rogers and into the arms of Rutgers' Lorenzo Waters, who returned the interception to the Louisville 42.
The Scarlet Knights turned the turnover into Nick Borgese's tying 38-yard field goal with 7:48 left.
Fans waved white towels, and AC/DC blared from the loud speakers. But that was the last big play Rutgers could muster.
''I think we have a football team right now that's hurting,'' Flood said.
Louisville ended up tossing oranges in the air when it was over and exchanging high-fives with a small group of its fans in a corner of the stadium.
The Cardinals might end up in New Orleans instead of Miami, depending on how the rest of championship weekend plays out. Surely, they will be fine with either.