No. 14 Miami Beats Louisville 49-28

Friday, December 19th 2003, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

MOBILE, Ala. (AP) _ Ben Roethlisberger passed for 376 yards and four first-half touchdowns and No. 14 Miami of Ohio beat Louisville 49-28 Thursday night in the GMAC Bowl to extend major college football's longest winning streak to 13 games.

The RedHawks (13-1) raced to a 35-7 second quarter lead and scored two more touchdowns in the fourth to stymie a rally by Louisville (9-4), which has lost five bowl games in the past six years.

It was the first bowl appearance since 1986 for the Mid-American Conference champion RedHawks and their first postseason win in 28 years, punctuating the team's only 13-win season. After a season-opening loss at Iowa, Miami rebounded to match its longest winning streak set from 1972-74.

If it was Roethlisberger's final college game, he made it a beauty, completing 21 of 33 passes, shaking off would-be sacks and throwing perfect strikes on the run. A third-team Associated Press All-American, he is a likely top 10 NFL draft pick if he decides to skip his senior season but had said he won't make a decision until after the game.

Roethlisberger certainly looked NFL-ready in the first half, going 16-for-20 for 291 yards for an offense that produced 16 plays of 10-plus yards before halftime.

The RedHawks outgained Louisville 597-492 in a matchup of high-powered offenses.

The Miami defense twice came up big in the fourth. Matt Pusateri stepped in front of Stefan LeFors' pass and raced 35 yards for a touchdown to erase Louisville's comeback hopes, the RedHawks' fifth score of the season on interception returns. Then, Terna Nande picked off another pass in the end zone.

Cal Murray rushed 15 times for 142 yards and a touchdown for Miami. Martin Nance had nine catches for 169 yards, all but one catch and 6 yards in the first half.

It's the first time a MAC team has produced a 4,000-yard passer, a 1,000-yard receiver and a 1,000-yard rusher in a season.

LeFors was 17-of-26 for 224 yards but was intercepted three times after getting picked off only seven times in the first 12 games. J.R. Russell caught seven passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns, including a 31-yarder from backup quarterback Michael Bush on a halfback option pass.

Lionel Gates carried 12 times for 128 yards, including an 88-yarder to set up a late first-half touchdown for the Cardinals. It was the third longest run from scrimmage in Louisville history, but he carried only twice after the half.

Miami scored touchdowns on its first five possessions for a 28-point lead, then Louisville's Russell threatened to steal the spotlight.

Russell had a pair of touchdown catches in the final 5:27 of the second quarter and caught a 24-yarder from LeFors in the back left corner of the end zone late in the third quarter to cut the deficit down to seven points.

Roethlisberger was just 3-of-9 in the quarter, but still broke the MAC records for single-season completions (342), passing yards (4,486) and total offense (4,597).

He dominated the first half, though, even burying Louisville at its own 2 on a punt with a minute left before halftime.

Gates topped that feat on second down, racing to the Miami 6-yard line before getting chased down by Darrell Hunter. LeFors hit Russell for a 2-yard score as time expired to make it 35-21.

Roethlisberger joined Byron Leftwich and Chad Pennington as the only MAC quarterbacks to reach 11,000 career yards in total offense. He finished up with 19 touchdowns and one interception in his last five games.