LOUISVILLE — As expected, Louisville's football team handled FCS foe Eastern Kentucky Saturday night in Cardinal Stadium with relative ease, but the game is likely to be remembered for a bonehead move by a Cardinal rather than the routine 30-3 victory.
The unusual play came early in the fourth quarter and ruined the most exciting moment of the evening. On a third-and-12 from his own 5-yard line, wide receiver Ahmari Huggins-Bruce took a short pass from quarterback Malik Cunningham on a slant and raced untouched downfield for an apparent 95-yard touchdown as the crowd of 39,000 roared and the U of L sideline erupted.
But hold on. As it turned out, Huggins-Bruce started celebrating too soon and dropped the ball at the 1-yard line. A review confirmed that it was EKU's ball on a touchback. Had the freshman from Dillon, South Carolina, held onto it for another yard it would have been U of L's longest pass completion for a touchdown in program history.
Instead, the record remains with Bill Karns, who caught a 94-yard scoring pass from Gene Sartini in 1950. The late Sartini went on to a successful coaching career at Flaget High School and Providence High in Clarksville, Indiana.
"Ahmari did the hard part, outrunning the whole defense," U of L coach Scott Satterfield said of Huggins-Bruce's catch-and-run. "The easy part . . . anybody in the stands could have just carried the ball across the line. It was unfortunate for him, but he still had a good night (four catches, 50 yards). He's a very good playmaker with the ball in his hands; he's got exceptional speed and quickness. Just a shame he didn't get a touchdown on that particular play."
Other than that embarrassment almost everything else went U of L's way.
The Cards did take care of business, outgaining EKU 347-235 in total yards and breaking some long gainers that had been missing in the opening 43-24 loss to Ole Miss.
Cunningham and Jalen Mitchell led the way for the offense. Cunningham accounted for three of his team's four touchdowns, completing 15-of-24 passes for 183 yards, including a 30-yard TD pass to Justin Marshall and scoring on runs of 10 and 3 yards. Mitchell rushed for 90 yards.
Braden Smith returned a punt 49 yards for Louisville’s other touchdown early in the second quarter, giving the Cards their first punt return for a TD since Rodjay Burns went 55 yards against Indiana State in 2018.
Louisville's defense also did its part, turning the Colonels into a one-dimensional team by stopping their running attack and forcing them to the air on nearly every snap. The losers had just 86 yards rushing in 22 attempts and sophomore cornerback Kei'Trel Clark intercepted two passes.
"Good to get a win, no doubt about that. We love winning," Satterfield said. "Proud of the guys the way they came back off a tough loss Monday night in a short week. They came out and played hard tonight. The defense really had a good night. Clark, I thought he played awesome out there on the edge. Offensively, there were some things that were good, other things just average. We've got to get a lot better."
Louisville did most of its damage in the first half, although its only sustained drive — following three punts on five possessions — came on its final possession of the half. The Cards moved 72 yards in 11 plays, with Cunningham completing back-to-back passes to wide receiver Josh Johnson of 21 and 20 yards before taking it into the end zone himself from 3 yards for a 20-3 halftime lead.
Special teams scored or set up the Cardinals’ other two first-half touchdowns. First, Marvin Dallas recovered a fumbled punt at the EKU 25 and two plays later, Cunningham scored on a 10-yard run off a broken play with 4:27 left in the first quarter. Midway through the second quarter Smith returned the punt after catching the low kick on a bounce.
Louisville will host UCF on Saturday at 7:30 p.m. EKU plays at home Saturday against Indiana State.