MIAMI — Never mind the turnovers and the sloppy first three quarters. Soon after the No. 5 Louisville Cardinals won the Orange Bowl, they had their sights on bigger things.
“Right now, coming back and trying to win a national title looks very appealing,” junior quarterback Brian Brohm said.
The Cardinals overcame a rash of mistakes Tuesday night to earn their first major-bowl victory in 15 years, beating Wake Forest 24-13.
Brohm threw for 311 yards and Anthony Allen scored two touchdowns, one on a trick play, to help Louisville finish 12-1 and clinch its highest end-of-season ranking ever.
“This is a big win for our program,” said Harry Douglas, who made 10 catches for 165 yards. “We’re becoming a national power. It had to start with this game.”
The Cardinals blew an 18-point lead in their lone loss at Rutgers, which likely cost them a chance to play for the national title.
“We start off with a high ranking next year,” said receiver Patrick Carter, who threw a touchdown pass. “We’ve proved ourselves, and we need to keep proving ourselves.”
The Cardinals averaged 39 points and ranked second in the nation in total offense this season, but fell behind 13-10 in the final period before their high-powered offense got into gear. Touchdown drives of 81 and 71 yards on consecutive possessions sealed their first win in a major bowl since the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.
The No. 15 Demon Deacons slipped to 11-3, still their best season.
“Looking back on our season, you definitely have to be happy with what we did,” linebacker Jon Abbate said. “We turned the corner for Wake Forest football.”
Through three quarters, the Demon Deacons appeared on the verge of an upset, as squandered opportunities plagued the Cardinals. Louisville lost two fumbles in Wake Forest territory, Mario Urrutia dropped a potential 62-yard touchdown pass, and Art Carmody — the Lou Groza Award winner — was wide right on a 32-yard field goal attempt, only his fourth miss this season.
“We weren’t holding onto the ball,” center Eric Wood said. “We weren’t helping ourselves.”
Alphonso Smith nearly blocked Carmody’s errant kick and also harried Louisville’s punter into a 14-yard boot that set up a 44-yard field goal by Sam Swank of Wake Forest.
Like Louisville, the Demon Deacons failed to convert several scoring chances. They committed three turnovers in Cardinal territory, and after moving 36 yards in the final minute of the first half, Swank missed a 47-yard field goal.
“Too many mistakes,” coach Jim Grobe said.
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But Swank made a 36-yarder to cap a 61-yard drive and put the Demon Deacons ahead 13-10 early in the fourth quarter.
The Cardinals responded with an eight-play drive capped by Allen’s 1-yard plunge for a 17-13 lead with 12:31 to go. They quickly forced a punt, and mounted a 10-play drive that ended with Brock Bolen’s 18-yard scoring run.
Brohm directed the drives, finished 24-for-34 and was chosen the game’s most valuable player. He said he’s leaning toward returning for his senior season next fall.
“We’ve got a great team coming back, and it’d be hard to pass up,” Brohm said.
His yardage total was the third-highest in Orange Bowl history, behind only Michigan’s Tom Brady and Southern Cal’s Matt Leinart.
“He’s a smart guy,” Douglas said. “He throws the ball where we need to have it and puts us in great position, and I love him.”
Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner went 21-for-33 for 271 yards with one touchdown and one interception.
“It never helps to lose in the fourth quarter,” he said. “That kind of leaves a thorn in your side.”
The Demon Deacons trailed 10-3 at halftime but scored on their first possession of the third period when Nate Morton slipped behind the Louisville secondary to catch a 30-yard TD pass from Skinner.
The Cardinals sputtered early but pulled out a trick play to score their first touchdown.
Brohm threw a lateral to Carter, who stopped and threw across the field deep to Allen for the score. The 21-yard pass was the first this season by Carter, a quarterback at Georgia Tech before he transferred.
“We’ve been working on it all year, but I didn’t think we would run it tonight,” Carter said. “I couldn’t believe it when coach signaled it in the huddle.”
Trick plays backfired early on for the Demon Deacons, who twice tried reverses in the first quarter. The first lost 17 yards and the second lost 10.
The bowl game was only the seventh for Wake Forest in 105 seasons.
“It’s sort of bittersweet — we got here but didn’t win,” tackle Steve Vallos said. “At the same time, it was still a great accomplishment for the team.”