LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) - Micale Cunningham threw for a career-high 343 yards and three touchdowns and ran for another score as UofL overcame some shaky special teams in a 35-21 season opening win over Western Kentucky.
The Toppers scored first, after recovering a Cards fumbled snap at the one yard line. Gaej Walker punched it in for a 7-0 WKU lead.
UofL answered with a pair of big plays. Cunningham connected with sophomore newcomer Braden Smith for a 63 yard completion, and the found Ean Pfeifer for a 28 score to tie the game at seven.
The Cards took the lead for good with a 10 play, 93 yard drive, capped by a Cunningham 14 yard touchdown run. That made it 14-7 Cards.
Javian Hawkins scored from 19 yards out later in the second quarter to make it 21-7 and when Cunningham connected with Ballard High grad Marshon Ford for a two yard score just before the half, it was 28-7 Cards.
A blocked punt early in the third, provided WKU with good field position again. They took advantage with a two play, four yard drive, capped by Malik Staples going in from the one. Staples, a former UofL linebacker, has shifted to running back in Bowling Green. His score made it 28-14.
Cunningham extended the lead, finding Dez Fitzpatrick for a 70 yard touchdown and a 35-14 Cards cushion.
Hawkins finished with 71 yards on 19 carries. Smith caught 4 passes for 110 yards, stats equaled by Fitzpatrick. Tutu Atwell had 7 receptions for 78 yards.
The Cards out gained the Toppers 487-248.
“First of all, I want to give Western Kentucky a lot of credit.,” UofL head coach Scott Satterfield said. “We knew coming in that they were a really good football team. I have a lot of respect for their staff. They’ve done a phenomenal job. Coming into tonight’s game and that was the two most improved teams in the country last year. They had a ton of experience coming back, guys who are playmakers. We had a lot of respect for them. We didn’t start out great but our guys kept their composure and then we had a great second quarter. I’m proud of the guys for that. We obviously got a lot of things we got to work on to get better.”
The loss snapped Western Kentucky’s four-game winning streak.
“I thought the effort was there, I thought their passion was there. I thought they gained some momentum, they started to make some plays,” WKU head coach Tyson Helton said. “We did, for a short period of time, have an opportunity to get ourselves back in the game. But, good football teams try to find that way to win, and Louisville’s a good football team. They were able to answer right back and pull away from us again.”
The Cards host Miami (FL) next Saturday night at 7:30 p.m. ESPN College Game Day will be in town for the match up with the Hurricanes. WKU hosts Liberty on Saturday at 12 p.m.