Cincinnati, OH (SportsNetwork.com) - Dominique Brown scored from two yards out on the first possession of overtime and Louisville's defense came up with a big defensive stop, as the 19th-ranked Cardinals edged the Cincinnati Bearcats, 31-24, on Thursday at Nippert Stadium.
Cincinnati's Tony Miliano drilled a 26-yard field goal with seven seconds left in regulation to cap a back-and-forth fourth quarter and send the game to an extra session.
The Cardinals started overtime with the ball and quickly moved to the Cincinnati 5 following four straight runs from Brown before a defensive pass interference call in the end zone on 3rd-and-goal gave Louisville a fresh set of downs.
Brown scored from two yards out on the next play, and Louisville's defense did the rest, forcing three consecutive incompletions from Brendon Kay to keep the Keg of Nails Trophy in the Cardinals' possession.
With the Louisville win, No. 15 Central Florida, which handed Louisville its only loss of the season, secured the AAC's automatic BCS berth. The Cardinals (11-1, 7-1 AAC) will be headed to the Russell Athletic Bowl, which is set to be played on Dec. 28 in Orlando.
Teddy Bridgewater completed 23-of-37 passes for 255 yards and three touchdowns with an interception, while DeVante Parker hauled in a game-high nine passes for 104 yards and two scores for the Cardinals, who notched back-to-back 11- win seasons for the first time in program history.
Senorise Perry rushed for 81 yards on 16 carries, while Brown rushed 19 times for 79 yards and the decisive score.
Cincinnati (9-3, 6-2), meanwhile, could have claimed the conference's automatic BCS bid by winning and finishing above UCF in the final BCS standings, but the Bearcats were unable to notch their seventh straight win, despite a valiant effort by Kay.
The senior signal-caller finished 22-of-40 passing for 304 yards with two interceptions and carried the ball 11 times for 23 yards and two scores, including a 2-yard surge on Cincinnati's first touch of the second half that gave the team a 14-10 lead.
"He competed tonight, all the seniors did," Cincinnati head coach Tommy Tuberville said of Kay and his fellow seniors. "It is just tough when you play your last home game, you play it so close and they want to win it so bad you just got to feel for kids like that."
Following an exchange of punts, Bridgewater guided the Cardinals on a 13-play trek early in the fourth, highlighted by a 14-yard scramble on 4th-and-12 that saw him slip out of a number of tackles before picking up the first down.
Facing 3rd-and-8 three plays later, Bridgewater fired an off-balance pass into the back right corner of the end zone for Damian Copeland, who made an outstanding play to stay in bounds while hauling in the 22-yard score that made it 17-14 Louisville with 8:08 to play in regulation.
"I was just trying to make a play," Bridgewater said of his TD pass to Copeland. "I was just trying to stay alive and fight in the pocket. I trust that Copeland would come down with the ball if I put it up there for him and he did it tonight."
The Bearcats countered two offensive plays later, as Ralph Abernathy followed Mekale McKay's 57-yard catch-and-run with a 15-yard TD scamper that put Cincinnati on top, 21-17, with 7:17 on the clock.
Bridgewater answered with another lengthy scoring march, completing all five passes on an 11-play trek that the junior quarterback capped with a 4-yard TD strike to Parker that gave the Cardinals a 24-21 lead.
With 2:26 left in regulation, Kay completed four of his next five passes, including a 24-yard strike to Chris Moore that moved the team to the Louisville 13.
However, on 3rd-and-10 from the 13-yard line, Abernathy was stopped for a short 4-yard gain, setting up Miliano's game-tying 26-yard field goal.
Early on, Louisville's Charles Gaines picked off Kay on the Bearcats' third play from scrimmage, and four plays later, Bridgewater found Parker for a 36- yard touchdown that made it 7-0 less than three minutes in.
John Wallace extended the lead with a 31-yard field goal midway through the second, but the Bearcats answered with an 11-play, 70-yard march that Kay capped with a 1-yard TD surge that brought Cincinnati within 10-7.
The Keg of Nails Trophy, which is given to the winner of this rivalry game each year, won't be given out again for the foreseeable future, with Louisville headed to the ACC next season ... Cincinnati leads the all-time series by a count of 30-22 ... Cincinnati finished 8-of-17 on third-down conversions ... Louisville compiled 28 first downs, compared to 22 for Cincinnati ... Abernathy finished with 18 rushing yards on six carries ... Bridgewater carried the ball six times for 15 yards.