PISCATAWAY, N.J. – In the 143-year history of Rutgers football, the 2012 Scarlet Knights may have pulled off the most heart-breaking loss of all time.
Leading by 11 points with a spot in the BCS on the line, Rutgers choked away its chances at another pandemonium moment with the ugliest of ugly and a 20-17 loss. The seniors on the team deemed anything less than a BCS bid as a failure, and that is exactly what took place Thursday night.
“We have a football team right now that’s hurting,” said head coach Kyle Flood. “…The effort and emotion that was poured into that game, right now their hearts have been ripped out.”
Rutgers relied on its defense and ability to control the clock all season and failed in both aspects in the second half. Louisville scored 17 points in the final 16 minutes of the game, including a 29-yard field goal by John Wallace to win it with 1:41 left.
As much as Rutgers struggled in the second half, the Scarlet Knights had a chance to win it. Driving in the two-minute drill, a miscommunication between quarterback Gary Nova and receiver Brandon Coleman led to an errant interception to lose it.
“It was my fault,” Nova said. “That’s all that needs to be said.”
Louisville used the injured Teddy Bridgewater to pick apart the Rutgers defense in the second half. With a broken wrist and a bad leg, Bridgewater threw for 263 yards and two touchdowns.
“We just weren’t able to match him in the end,” Flood said. “They were just a little bit better than we were today.”
Louisville pulled off what Flood referred to as a 21-point swing to start the half, which was the turning point for the Cardinals. Rutgers had a touchdown pass on a fake field goal called back because of an illegal man downfield. Louisville then followed up with two straight touchdowns, separated only by a Jeremy Deering fumble.
Rutgers was successful early with big catches by Coleman and senior receiver Mark Harrison. Coleman broke out with an 85-yard touchdown on the first play from scrimmage. Harrison then made it a two-score game by turning a 6-yard hook into a 68-yard touchdown by breaking two tackles.
“There are so many emotions, it’s hard to explain,” Harrison said. “I’m excited in a sense that I came so far in my career but I’m just not excited how I left it. I feel like I want to leave a better legacy than I did. “
The loss likely puts Rutgers into the Russell Athletic Bowl in Orlando, Fla. The game cannot issue formal invites until after the BCS rankings come out, but the loser was considered close to a foregone conclusion to the game. The Russell Athletic Bowl, formerly the Champs Sports Bowl, pits Big East against ACC, with Virginia Tech as the favorite for the bid.
A formal announcement will be made Sunday.