LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Micale Cunningham accounted for four touchdowns and passed for a career-high 343 yards, helping Louisville overcome a mistake-prone start to roll past Western Kentucky 35-21 in Saturday night’s season opener for both schools.
Cunningham completed 19 of 34 passes with TDs of 28, 2 and 70 yards to surpass his previous yardage best of 288 last season against Boston College. The junior quarterback also rushed for a 14-yard score after hitting tight end Ean Pfeifer with his first TD pass that tied the game at 7.
A fumbled punt snap on Louisville’s opening possession resulted in Gaej Walker’s 1-yard TD run for WKU. Louisville regrouped to score on four of the next five drives as Javian Hawkins rushed for a 19-yard TD and Marshon Ford caught a TD pass to make it 28-7. The Cardinals outgained the Hilltoppers 487-248, including 337-120 by halftime on the way to winning their 12th consecutive series meeting.
Tyrrell Pigrome tossed a 12-yard TD to Mitchell Tinsley and finished with 129 yards passing in his WKU debut after transferring from Maryland. Omari Alexander blocked a Logan Lupo punt to set up Malik Staples’ 1-yard TD for another Hilltoppers score.
The game was played before 11,179 physically distanced fans at Cardinal Stadium.
Western Kentucky: Short touchdowns set up from punt coverage helped the Hilltoppers avoid a shutout, and they managed another score late in the game. They had other opportunities that came up empty, as Jahcour Pearson was stripped after a 50-yard reception before they later turned it over on downs near the goal line. The defense struggled to contain Cunningham.
Louisville: After looking rusty on an opening drive that began with a holding penalty and ended with Lupo’s fumbled snap to set up WKU’s first score, the Cardinals dialed in on both sides of the ball. Cunningham’s 63-yard strike to Braden Smith quickly awakened the offense, which continued to show its knack for rolling up big yardage. Most encouraging for Louisville was a defense that registered 10 tackles for loss and with three sacks.
Western Kentucky hosts Liberty on Saturday, seeking its first series win in three meetings. The schools are meeting for the first time since 1996.
Louisville hosts Miami (Florida) in an ACC opener Saturday night, looking to avenge last year’s 55-27 road loss to the Hurricanes.