Rutgers Stuns Louisville 28-25
Rutgers Stuns Louisville 28-25
RALPH D. RUSSO
Nov. 10, 2006
PISCATAWAY, N.J. (AP) _ Rutgers arrived _ and kicked No. 3 Louisville right out of the national championship scramble.
The program that once set the standard for college football futility jumped into the national title picture Thursday night with a 28-25 victory over No. 3 Louisville.
On his second chance, Jeremy Ito kicked a 28-yard tiebreaking field goal with 13 seconds left and the second consecutive primetime showdown between Big East unbeatens went to No. 15 Rutgers (9-0, 4-0).
Just a week ago, it was Louisville (8-1, 3-1) celebrating the biggest win in school history, a 44-34 victory over West Virginia that vaulted the Cardinals into the heart of the national championship race.
This time it was Rutgers' turn to party.
The Scarlet Knights shut out the high-scoring Cardinals in the second half, erased an 18-point deficit and got the ball with 5:28 left in the fourth quarter at their own 9.
Brian Leonard went 26 yards with a pass in the flats to get Rutgers into Louisville territory and Ray Rice broke a 20-yard run to get into field-goal range. Ito missed a 33-yarder with 18 seconds left but Louisville was offside and Ito got another shot _ and it was perfect.
The final play, appropriately, was a sack of Brian Brohm by a Rutgers' defense that proved itself as one of the best in the country.
Fans flooded the field, hardly a yard marker could be seen, engulfing their heroes.
Rice, the Heisman Trophy candidate, yes the new Scarlet Knights even have one of those, ran for 22 times for 131 yards and two touchdowns.
Brohm, who looked like the Heisman contender last week, went 13-for-27 for 163 yards and was sacked five times, twice each by Jamel Meekins and Devraun Thompson.
When coach Greg Schiano took over at Rutgers in 2001 the program was as bad as it got in college football, and it didn't get much better in the former Miami assistant's first few seasons.
The Scarlet Knights won three games in Schiano's first two years and 12 his first four, before finally turning it around last year with seven victories and a bowl bid.
This season, off to their best start 1976, the next step for the Scarlet Knights was to show if they could compete with the nation's best.
The answer: Absolutely.
Louisville jumped out to a 25-7 lead in the first half behind Brohm and a 100-yard kickoff return by JaJuan Spillman and it looked as if the Cardinals were on their way to a BCS boosting romp.
But laughingstocks no more, the Scarlet Knights came charging back to tie it in the fourth quarter behind speedy tailback Rice and a relentless pass rush.
Rutgers gave the 2,000 fans packed into the temporary stands behind the south end zone something to go crazy about when Kenny Britt reached high from a pass over the middle and broke free for a 67-yard reception right in their direction. Louisville's William Gay caught Britt from behind and stripped the ball, but it bounced right back to the Rutgers' receiver, who covered it at the Cardinals' 4.
And if that wasn't enough to swing momentum Rutgers' way, Rice's 4-yard TD sweep on the next play surely was. The 2-point conversion cut the lead to 25-22 with 4:42 left in the third quarter.
After struggling early to slow down Brohm and the No. 2 offense in the country, Meekins and the hard-rushing Scarlet Knights held the Cardinals without a first down for the first 26 minutes of the second half.
When Ito nailed a 46-yard field goal with 10:17 left in the fourth quarter, the game was tied at 25, the cannon behind the south end zone boomed and the record crowd of 44,111 was in a white-towel waving frenzy.
Students started lining up outside Rutgers Stadium more than four hours before kickoff for the most important college football game in New Jersey since, well, maybe the first one was played between Rutgers and Princeton in 1869. Never before had Rutgers played in a game matching ranked teams.
Now the Scarlet Knights have won one and can started wondering where they will be when the next Bowl Championship Series standings come out Sunday.