LOUISVILLE, Ky. - It's hardly a shock to say that Louisville's upcoming matchup against Kentucky means more than most other games. It's a chance to hand your hated rival a loss to help continue on their downward trend in the latter half of the season. It's also an opportunity for them to continue their recently generated momentum into the bowl game, and into the offseason.
But for a select group of Cardinals, Saturday's game against the Wildcats means even more than that. The Battle for the Governor's Cup will also serve as Senior Day for 14 players, all of whom will be playing their final game at Cardinal Stadium.
For graduate transfers, playing your last game in front of the home crowd might not mean all that much, all things considered, The same, to an extent, could possibly be said for career backups and role players.
But for guys like center Cole Bentley and inside linebacker C.J. Avery, that final time out carries that a bit more weight.
"This is my last (rivalry game vs Kentucky), really, my last one at Cardinal Stadium. A lot of lasts for me," Bentley said. "It's a lot of emotion coming into it. A lot of football has been played, and it's all kind of wrapping up at this point."
Both of the fifth-year seniors opted to take advantage of their extra year of eligibility thanks to COVID, and return to Louisville. Up to this point, Bentley and Avery have played a combined 107 games in a Cardinal uniform, with 83 being starts.
"It's kind of crazy to think about," Bentley said. "I feel like I'm still like a sophomore or something. It's just crazy to think that it's all here now."
Of course, with their final home game coming against their arch-rival, it carries even more juice. This is further compounded by the fact that Louisville's last time out against Kentucky in 2019 resulted in a rain-soaked blowout on the road.
"It'll be everything, man. Just trying to get that payback for 2019," Avery said. "Just ready to get out there and play."
In fact, current fifth-year players for the Cardinals -- like Bentley and Avery -- are just 1-2 against the Wildcats in their careers. The lone victory came in 2017 at Commonwealth Stadium in Lexington, Ky. when both were true freshmen.
Ahead of their final time out vs. Kentucky, on top of game planning for their opponent, they spent a little bit of time communicating to the younger guys on what the rivalry is all about.
"Today in team meetings, we just gave a little history on the rivalry, just so the younger guys will know what's at stake," Avery said. "I think they understand that that, and they'll see whenever the game gets started."
It's safe to say that Saturday's primetime outing against the 'Cats will be an emotionally charged one. In the same breath, Louisville will still have to remain locked in, and focus on the desired outcome: a win.
"I try to treat it like a normal game," Bentley said. "Maybe on like, Tuesday or Wednesday, I might start getting ready for the game mentally, earlier than I would for maybe a normal Saturday game.
"You get locked in a little bit more, a little bit more focused, a little bit more film study. As for physically going and playing the game, you try to play just level headed like you always do."
(Photo of Cole Bentley: Sam Upshaw Jr. - Courier Journal via Imagn Content Services, LLC)
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