MICHAEL A. LUTZ
AP Sports Writer
|Houston's Greg Holte (17) knocks the ball loose from Louisville's Damien Dorsey for an incomplete pass during the second quarter Saturday, Nov. 18, 2000, in Houston. (AP Photo/Brett Coomer)|
HOUSTON (AP) (Nov. 18) - Nathan Smith kicked four field goals and quarterback Dave Ragone passed for two touchdowns and ran for another as the Louisville Cardinals wrapped up the Conference-USA championship and Liberty Bowl berth with a 32-13 victory over the Houston Cougars Saturday.
Louisville (9-2, 6-1 in C-USA) won its fourth straight game and prepared to accept a bid to the Liberty Bowl on Dec. 29 in Memphis, Tenn.
The Cardinals captured their third conference title. The Cardinals won Missouri Valley Conference titles in 1970 and 1972. Houston finished its season at 3-8, 2-5.
Louisville's defense picked off four passes by Jason McKinley and two of those set up points for the Cardinals.
Leading 15-13 at the half, the Cardinals took charge with 17-unanswered points. Ragone scored on a 2-yard run with :24 left in the third quarter and completed a 29-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch with 10:20 left in the game.
Smith kicked his fourth field goal with 8:01 to play. Ragone completed 13 of 34 passes and 216 yards and one interception.
Smith kicked field goals of 41 and 33 yards in the first quarter and Ragone scrambled from a hard rush to complete a 43-yard touchdown pass to Tony Stallings in the second quarter for a 12-0 lead.
That lead looked safe as halftime neared but Jason Parker picked off a Ragone pass and returned it 28 yards for a touchdown with 3:20 to go in the half for the Cougars' first points. The extra point attempt failed.
Smith added his third field goal, a 34-yarder with 1:09 left in the half but the Cougars covered 79 yards with time running out and McKinley hit Brian Robinson in the corner of the end zone for a 37-yard touchdown with eight seconds left in the half.
Louisville wide receiver Arnold Jackson caught his 300th career pass, becoming the first player in NCAA Division I-A history to reach that milestone.