Louisville reigns in Liberty
In shootout, Boise State winning streak is halted
MEMPHIS -- In the highest-scoring game in Liberty Bowl history, it was a defensive play by Louisville that ended Boise State's 22-game winning streak.
Safety Kerry Rhodes intercepted a pass in the end zone as time expired to preserve No. 7 Louisville's 44-40 victory over 10th-ranked Boise State last night.
"It's a great way to end it," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "A national audience, two teams that were supposed to score over 84 points. I think we hit it right on the top."
Now Louisville will enter the Big East Conference in grand style after handing Boise State its first loss since September 2003 in a game that was the most important in school history for both programs.
"This was big for us," Boise State receiver Chris Carr said. "We don't see ourselves as a non-BCS school or a little school. We see ourselves on the same level as any school we play.
"We wanted to come out here and prove to everybody that we're not a team in the WAC that's not very good, and we just beat up on little teams."
Eric Shelton scored the go-ahead touchdown on a 1-yard run with 6:48 left. Stefan LeFors threw two touchdowns and ran for a third as the Cardinals (11-1), who have never finished ranked higher than 13th, matched a school record for victories in a season.
The Cardinals won their third Liberty Bowl in their final game as a Conference USA team.
The Broncos (11-1) had one last chance to win after Art Carmody's 19-yard field goal with 1:10 left gave Louisville a 4-point lead.
Quarterback Jared Zabransky drove the Broncos to the Louisville 30 before his final pass into the end zone as time expired was intercepted by Rhodes. He more than atoned for his missed interception opportunity in a 41-38 loss on Oct. 14 to then-No. 3 Miami.
"God blessed me to put me in position to make the play, and I made the play," Rhodes said.
The win was a welcome end to a week in which the Cardinals were forced to deal with the news that Petrino had interviewed with LSU about its open coaching job. They certainly didn't seem distracted against the Broncos.
Petrino kept referring to the Cardinals as "we," and asked if that would remain the same, he had a short answer.
"We certainly hope so," Petrino said.
Everyone expected a high-scoring game in a bowl pairing the nation's top two offenses, and the teams didn't disappoint as they swapped the lead five times. The 84 combined points topped the 80 points by Colorado and Alabama in 1969 and was one of a handful of records set.
Louisville won only for the second time in seven bowls despite a season-high four turnovers. The Cardinals rolled up 564 yards, topping 500 yards for the ninth time this season.
LeFors was 18 of 26 for 193 yards and ran 12 times for 76 yards. The Cardinals rushed for 329 yards against a defense that had been the nation's fourth best against the run.
"He, particularly running the football, killed us," Boise State coach Dan Hawkins said of LeFors. "That doesn't mean he didn't make some throws, because he obviously did. But I think where he made some big plays, huge plays, was running the football. On key downs and in key situations, he really sparked them."
The teams rewrote the Liberty Bowl record book, combining for the most points in the first quarter (24), and most for the first half (52).