CINCINNATI (AP) -- Brian Brohm and a maligned defense kept Louisville's season from going down the drain.
Brohm threw three touchdown passes and made a gutsy, game-turning 51-yard completion Saturday night, rallying Louisville to a 28-24 victory over No. 15 Cincinnati that showed the Cardinals aren't done yet.
"It was a great job by our players," coach Steve Kragthorpe said. "People were really down on them. They said some bad things about them."
Brohm changed the conversation with a nearly flawless performance. The senior quarterback with the pro-style touch made the big plays and avoided interceptions against a defense that led the nation in coaxing them.
"He's a Heisman Trophy candidate for a reason," Cincinnati safety Haruki Nakamura said. "He makes big plays in big games. He led his team really well."
Brohm's daring 51-yard completion to Harry Douglas set up the go-ahead touchdown in the fourth quarter, completing a comeback that might have saved Louisville's season.
Louisville (4-3, 1-1 Big East) brought the Keg of Nails, a quirky keepsake that has spent most of the last 10 years in Kentucky. The Cardinals have won the last five games against Cincinnati and nine of the last 10, proof that the rivals are separated by more than just 105 miles of interstate.
The Bearcats' best start since 1954 ended against the one team they still can't beat.
Cincinnati (6-1, 1-1) led the nation in turnover margin, but got the worst of it. The Bearcats fumbled twice inside the Louisville 20-yard line, and one of the nation's most porous defenses held them to a field goal after a first-and-goal from the 2 in the fourth quarter.
"Our defense was tired of the criticism," safety Richard Raglin said. "We had a point to prove. We didn't play a perfect game, but we played well enough to win. We can build on this."
The defense also stopped Cincinnati on a gamble that turned the game.
Quarterback Ben Mauk came up about 4 inches short on a fourth-and-1 sneak in the fourth quarter, giving Louisville good field position.
"That's something I do and will continue to do," coach Brian Kelly said.
Brohm made the Bearcats pay on the next play with the 51-yard completion to Douglas, who snatched the ball from cornerback DeAngelo Smith at the 3-yard line.
"On Harry's catch, they had it pretty well covered, but I just threw it up there and thought, 'Harry, make a play,' " Brohm said.
Anthony Allen's touchdown run on the next play made it 28-21 and put the game in the hands of a defense that had given up 38 points in four games so far. It held up this time, finishing it off with an interception.
Mauk was 26-of-45 for 324 yards with three touchdowns, but the Bearcats couldn't overcome their two fumbles and the interception on Mauk's final, desperate throw from his own end zone.
"Louisville's got a great defense," said Mauk, who saw its best side. "It's not like you're just playing against air out there. I made some bad decisions. I'm going to have to play better if we're going to continue to win."
Brohm was 28-of-38 for 350 yards, and also had a huge run. Louisville took a gamble of its own in the closing minutes, going for it on fourth-and-1 from its own 29-yard line. Brohm got the yard with a few inches to spare, and Louisville was able to run precious minutes off the clock.
The Cardinals' prolific offense was buoyed by the return of Douglas, who missed the previous two games with a leg injury. He had seven catches for 118 yards.
With that, Louisville stopped its free fall from No. 9 in the country to also-ran. Another loss would have been the Cardinals' third in a row -- they hadn't done that since 1997 -- and practically ended their hopes of the Big East title they were a favorite to win.
When Kentucky upset No. 1 LSU in triple overtime earlier Saturday evening, ending its 13-game winning streak, the Bearcats assumed the nation's longest winning streak with nine straight.
Another team from Kentucky ended that one, too.