LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- The down marker flipped from three to four, and there was no doubt in Steve Kragthorpe what he wanted to do.
Leading then-No. 15 Cincinnati by four on Saturday night, the Cardinals faced a fourth-and-one from their own 29 with just over seven minutes left.
Conventional wisdom would say punt and let the defense take over. But Kragthorpe kept quarterback Brian Brohm on the field, and one push from Brohm's 6-foot-4 frame brought the Cardinals a crucial first down in a game they would go on to win 28-24.
Kragthorpe said he wasn't trying to send a message to the Cardinals (4-3) by going for it.
"You guys read too much into all that stuff," Kragthorpe said Monday. "At that point in time I'm trying to get a first down. I'm trying to keep the ball. So at that point in time all I'm thinking is the last time we got a quarterback sneak, we got three yards. We need a little bit under a yard to get it, so I wanted to go ahead and do it."
The Cardinals (4-3, 1-1 Big East) went for it again on fourth down in the final minute. Though their fourth-down run was stuffed at the Cincinnati 1, the move meant the Bearcats had to go 99 yards in 36 seconds with no timeouts. It didn't happen.
Message or not, the players viewed Kragthorpe's gamble as a much-needed vote of confidence for a team that struggled during a tumultuous first half of the season.
"Everybody on sideline wanted to go for it," said wide receiver Pat Carter. "We would have been more mad if we didn't go for it. We knew we were going to get it. Mentally it felt like we had an advantage over them."
It's an advantage that has been hard to come by this year for the Cardinals. But after putting together what Kragthorpe called his team's most complete performance of the season in a rare victory over a ranked opponent on the road, the Cardinals know their coach still believes the season can be salvaged.
"It's reassuring because he has faith in our ability," Carter said. "He sees how we work in the weight room. He knew we were going to convert for fourth down."
Louisville will try to take that optimism on the road Friday when the Cardinals play at Connecticut. The Huskies (5-1, 1-0) are one of the nation's more surprising teams and have the nation's sixth-ranked defense.
Yet Louisville's offense -- which stumbled early in losses to Utah and Syracuse -- seems to have found its rhythm again. Wide receiver Harry Douglas returned after missing two games with a leg injury and caught seven passes for 118 yards and Carter had five receptions for 59 yards and a career-high two touchdowns.
"It's great confidence that our hard work is paying off," Carter said. "Throughout the course of the season, we've all been working hard. To drop three games makes you question yourself and what might you have done better, or might have done wrong. This conference is still open and we can still win it."
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