8:30 PM ET, December 18, 2003
Roy Kidd Stadium, RICHMOND, KY
MOBILE, Ala. -- Ben Roethlisberger ended his college career in style.
Roethlisberger passed for 376 yards and four first-half touchdowns to lead Miami of Ohio (No. 15 ESPN/USA Today, No. 14 AP) to a 49-28 victory over Louisville in the GMAC Bowl on Thursday night before announcing his decision to leave school early for the NFL.
"I feel the time is right to embark on the next challenge," he said. "I'll always be grateful for the wonderful experiences of the past four years."
A third-team Associated Press All-American, Roethlisberger is a likely top 10 pick in the April NFL draft. He showed why against the Cardinals, completing 21 of 33 passes, shaking off would-be sacks and throwing perfect strikes on the run.
The RedHawks (13-1) extended major college football's longest winning streak to 13 games after racing to a 35-7 second quarter lead. Miami 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.
"The unbelievable team success of this season has fulfilled so many of my collegiate football goals," said Roethlisberger, flanked by his family, coach Terry Hoeppner and some of his closest friends on the team.
He led the RedHawks to their first bowl appearance since 1986, a Mid-American Conference championship and their first postseason win in 28 years, punctuating the team's only 13-win season. After a season-opening loss at Iowa when Roethlisberger was picked off four times, Miami rebounded to match its longest winning streak set from 1972-74.
Roethlisberger certainly looked NFL-ready in the first half, going 16-of-20 for 291 yards for an offense that produced 16 plays of at least 10 yards before halftime.
"He made some plays that made those of you who haven't seen him play in person go, 'How can he do that? How can he keep escaping like that and hitting guys in the hands with balls,"' Hoeppner said.
"The Big 12 officials were officiating this game. They said they think we should have a revote," he said, referring to the Heisman Trophy captured by Oklahoma's Jason White. "I think he's the finest football player in college football."
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 six 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.
But the offensive centerpiece was always Roethlisberger, a former high school receiver who became a high-profile star for a typically low-profile team. Hoeppner said Roethlisberger and his parents came to his house a couple of weeks ago to discuss the decision.
They informed the team on the eve of the game.
"This was as good a kept secret within the team as President Bush's Thanksgiving Day vacation to Iraq," Hoeppner said. "Ben wanted to do the right thing for the team. The thing that was always most important to him was to protect the team. He didn't want his teammates to find out after the game."
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. He aggravated a shoulder injury on a 35-yard draw play early in the third quarter.
J.R. Russell caught seven passes for 144 yards and three touchdowns.
Lionel Gates carried 12 times for 128 yards, including an 88-yarder to set up Russell's two-yard touchdown catch as time expired in the first half. 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, but Russell's three TD catches cut it to a touchdown late in the third quarter.
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.
"He is all that they talked about," Louisville coach Bobby Petrino said. "He is a great player. We couldn't tackle him, and he made some great throws."
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.
Team Stat Comparison
|3rd Down Conversions||5-10||4-11|
|4th Down Conversions||0-0||2-2|
|TD||12:04||MICHAEL LARKIN 28 YD PASS FROM BEN ROETHLISBERGER (JARED PARSEGHIAN KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 88 yards.
|TD||9:07||CALVIN MURRAY 2 YD RUN (JARED PARSEGHIAN KICK)|
Drive info: 4 plays, 76 yards.
|TD||3:22||MARTIN NANCE 12 YD PASS FROM BEN ROETHLISBERGER (JARED PARSEGHIAN KICK)|
Drive info: 8 plays, 62 yards.
|TD||14:15||LIONEL GATES 1 YD RUN (NATE SMITH KICK)|
Drive info: 10 plays, 85 yards.
|TD||10:26||MATT BRANDT 16 YD PASS FROM BEN ROETHLISBERGER (JARED PARSEGHIAN KICK)|
Drive info: 7 plays, 79 yards.
|TD||6:51||MICHAEL LARKIN 26 YD PASS FROM BEN ROETHLISBERGER (JARED PARSEGHIAN KICK)|
Drive info: 5 plays, 66 yards.
|TD||5:27||J.R. RUSSELL 31 YD PASS FROM MICHAEL BUSH (NATE SMITH KICK)|
Drive info: 3 plays, 88 yards.
|TD||0:00||J.R. RUSSELL 2 YD PASS FROM STEFAN LEFORS (NATE SMITH KICK)|
Drive info: 4 plays, 98 yards.
|TD||0:36||J.R. RUSSELL 24 YD PASS FROM STEFAN LEFORS (NATE SMITH KICK)|
Drive info: 9 plays, 81 yards.
|TD||13:08||MIKE SMITH 3 YD RUN (JARED PARSEGHIAN KICK)|
Drive info: 6 plays, 78 yards.
|TD||7:57||MATT PUSATERI 35 YD INTERCEPTION RETURN (JARED PARSEGHIAN KICK)||49||28|