Micale Cunningham has career night vs. Hilltoppers

MatthewMcGavic

Anyone who has watched the Louisville program over the last year knows that head coach Scott Satterfield loves to run the football. In 2019, the Cardinals sported a top 25 rushing offense after accumulating 212.8 yards per game on the ground.

But in Saturday night's 35-21 season opening win vs. Western Kentucky, the script was flipped. Louisville still attempted 38 rushes in the victory, but the Cardinals found most of their success through the air.

"We needed to be able to throw the ball tonight," Satterfield said after the game. "They were loading up the box to try and stop the run, which they did a good job of that. So we all we've always said if they take that away we have to throw it."

Appearing in his twenty-third game and starting his fifteenth, redshirt junior quarterback Micale Cunningham did what was asked of his coach. He orchestrated an offense that put up 487 yards on the Hilltoppers defense, and completed 19 of his 34 passes for a career-high 343 yards - surpassing his previous best of 288 against Boston College last season.

"We were just ready to get back out there as a team," Cunningham said. "Waiting around all day until 8 p.m. was really crazy and it was tiring for us. We were so ready to get out there and play." 

The Montgomery, Ala. native didn't have to wait much longer after the 8 p.m. kickoff to make his first big plays of the young season. On the Cards' second drive of the night, Cunningham found wide receiver Braden Smith for a 63-yard completion followed by tight end Ean Pfeifer for a 28-yard score on the next play.

“We knew coming into this game that a lot of guys were going to have to make some plays. We knew that they were going to try and take Tutu (Atwell) away, which they did a pretty good job," Cunningham said. “We have to play, when they take away our No. 1 guy, to some other guys who have to step up and that’s what they did tonight. It was good to see.”

Cunningham put his legs to good use as well. On the first play of the second quarter, he rushed for a 14-yard touchdown to move him into second place by himself for rushing touchdowns by a QB in Louisville history with 12. He closed the half by finding tight end Marshon Ford on a dump off pass for a 2-yard score with 42 seconds left in the second quarter.

Though a bit of luck - both bad and good - broke his way in the game. His lone interception came on a tip drill play in the third quarter that was miraculously hauled in by the WKU secondary. On the flip side of Lady Luck's coin, wide receiver Dez Fitzpatrick turned what should have been his second pick of the game into a 70-yard house call to the endzone.

“Honestly, in the game of football you have to get lucky sometimes and Dez bailed me out on that one. That’s all I’m going to say," he said. 

That marked his third passing touchdown of the game and fourth overall. It was the third time in his career that he threw for three touchdowns and was responsible for at least four, all coming in the last five games dating back to the 2019 season.

"I'm really pleased about the big play capabilities that we do have, and the guys made plays," Satterfield said. "That's what they did tonight and I know hopefully they'll be able to do that the rest of the year.”

Louisville is set to host Miami next week for their ACC opener, with College GameDay also tagging along for the ride. Kickoff is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 19 at 7:30 p.m. on ABC.

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