Wards throws 3 TDs to rally Houston past Louisville 34-31
LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) As the final seconds ticked off the biggest win in Tom Herman's coaching career, Houston players ran to a corner of Louisville's home field to savor their upset with joyous fans.
Quarterback Greg Ward Jr. had more reason than others to celebrate after using his arm and feet to get the job done several times in the clutch.
Ward threw two of his three touchdown passes in the fourth quarter, including Demarcus Ayers for the 15-yard game-winner with 3:09 remaining, to rally Houston past Louisville 34-31 on Saturday.
''We just leaned on each other, just believed in each other,'' Ward said. ''We've been grinding it out, every week, every day. This is a great win for us.''
Ward earlier hit Linell Bonner for a 22-yard TD during a wild fourth quarter that began tied at 17 before the teams erupted for 31 combined points. The Cougars (2-0) ultimately got the last word in the back-and-forth contest, completing their third and final comeback in the period behind their mobile junior QB.
Houston's special teams also deserve credit, partially blocking John Wallace's 53-yard field goal attempt to tie with 54 seconds left. Kyle Bullard's 21-yard field goal early in the fourth to start the rally, and Brandon Wilson also returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown that tied the game after Wallace's 36-yard field goal.
Figure in a defense that posted four takeaways including two interceptions, and it added up to a signature win for first-year coach Tom Herman. That shouldn't be surprising, considering his fearless play-calling helped Ohio State win last year's national championship with three quarterbacks.
''We've been training nine months for this moment,'' Herman said, ''so none of us are surprised with this. It was an up-and-down win, definitely ups and downs. We found a way to pick each other up.''
Thanks to Ward, the Cougars are doing fine right now with one QB. He combined for 334 yards on offense, completing 23 of 33 attempts for 236 yards with one interception. He also carried 21 times for 98 yards.
Houston (2-0) outgained Louisville 462-395 and recorded four turnovers and broke a three-game losing streak to the Cardinals (0-2) in evening the series at eight wins each.
Kyle Bolin relieved freshman Lamar Jackson in the fourth and twice rallied Louisville with TD drives including his 29-yard scoring pass to Micky Crum with 6:25 remaining. But he couldn't complete a fifth rally as the Cardinals fell to 0-2 for the first time since 1998.
Bolin was 10 of 18 passing for 157 yards and led a touchdown drive ending with Jeremy Smith's 4-yard run for a 24-20 lead early in the fourth.
At times Jackson showed a crowd of 50,019 glimpses of his dual skills that helped him beat out favorites Reggie Bonnafon, Will Gardner and Bolin for the start, but freshman mistakes showed throughout.
Jackson was 17 of 27 for 168 yards and a TD in his first start but threw two deep interceptions, one of which led to Kyle Bullard's 21-yard field goal for Houston. The Cardinals also lost two fumbles to the Cougars.
''I think he was trying to do too much,'' Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said of Jackson.
The freshman ran and threw for many of Louisville's 75 yards on its game-tying first-quarter drive, including his 1-yard TD run. But Louisville's offense stalled, leading Petrino to start Bolin in the fourth quarter.
''His ability to drop back, throw the ball and mix it up is something that he's shown is his strength,'' Petrino said of Bolin. ''We felt like that's what we needed at that time.''
Follow Gary B. Graves on Twitter: -www.twitter.com/(at)GaryBGraves