CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (AP) — When he trotted back onto the field with just over 2 minutes to play and No, 5 Louisville suddenly trailing Virginia 25-24 on Saturday, Lamar Jackson was well aware of what was at stake.
"Everything," he said. "Our whole season. We just knew what we had to do."
Jackson, as has been the case all season, did the most, engineering a 75-yard drive and capping it by floating a perfectly placed 29-yard touchdown pass to Jaylen Smith with 13 seconds remaining as the Cardinals survived, 32-25.
— ACC Digital Network (@theACCDN) October 29, 2016
It was Jackson's fourth touchdown pass and kept the Cardinals (7-1, 5-1 Atlantic Coast Conference) in the College Football Playoff picture, and couldn't have hurt the Heisman Trophy frontrunner's candidacy.
Virginia (2-6, 1-3) had scored with 1:57 remaining and used a 2-point conversion to take a 25-24 lead, whipping the sparse crowd at Scott Stadium into a frenzy that could only have made the task more daunting.
Not for Jackson.
He ran for 18 yards on the first play, hit Cole Hikutini in traffic for 5 yards on fourth-and-3, ran twice more for 16 yards before hitting Smith in the end zone with the pass over tight coverage by Juan Thornhill.
"I just stayed calm," Jackson said. "Me being the leader of the offense, just kept a level head."
So did Smith, who had just one prior reception.
"Once we got the ball back, I felt like we had too much time not to score a touchdown," he said.
Jackson did not have one of his best days, getting sacked five times and turning the ball over twice, but still finished 24 of 41 for 361 yards. He ran 18 times for another 90 yards, and boosted his TD count to 38.
His other TD tosses covered 15 yards to Jamari Staples, and 8 and 10 yards to Reggie Bonnafon.
The Cavaliers had driven 75 yards in 14 plays, getting a 30-yard pass from Kurt Benkert to Keeon Johnson on fourth-and-7 to put the ball at the Cardinals 4. A TD throw to Doni Dowling on the next play and then Benkert's 2-point conversion pass to Albert Reid had put the Cavaliers ahead by a point with 1:57 left.
"I wanted to win and I didn't want to go to overtime," first-year Cavaliers coach Bronco Mendenhall said of the decision to go for 2, adding that he wanted his team to know he had faith in them to come though.
They did, but then Jackson added one more highlight to what has been a magical season.
"We threw our best punch," Virginia linebacker Micah Kiser said. "Got to keep throwing our best punches."
Louisville: No style points for the Cardinals, but having Jackson makes up for a lot of problems. Penalties and dropped passes were a nuisance in the first half.
Virginia: Coaches never acknowledge appreciating moral victories, but in a season of change under Mendenhall, his players had to love the confidence shown in them by going for 2 in the final minutes.
The Cardinals would probably be pleased to stay where they are after needing all 60 minutes to beat a 33½-point underdog, but they'd also love to see No. 12 Florida State beat No. 3 Clemson, reopening the Atlantic Division race. The Tigers hold the tiebreaker head-to-head because they beat Louisville 42-36 on Oct. 1.
Louisville: The Cardinals travel North for its final conference road game of the season against Boston College.
Virginia: The Cavaliers go on the road for the first time in more than a month to face surprising Wake Forest.
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