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Louisville Completes Remarkable Turnaround to Win MAC

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Louisville Completes Remarkable Turnaround to Win MAC

Louisville exploded to win their semi in the final 15 minutes.

After going into the Mid-American Conference as the #3 seed, the Louisville Cardinals defeated seeds #2 and #1 to win the conference playoffs this weekend.

In Saturday's semifinals, WMU ran out to a 30-14 lead with 15 minutes to go. This paralleled what their previous result had been (29-16 WMU) and it seemed clear the Broncos were set for the final.

But in the final 15 minutes Louisville stormed in for three tries, with freshman Jack Eberle going over for the game-winner.

It was a remarkable turnaround, but one that has its genesis in Louisville's earlier loss to WMU. 

"After our last loss we sat down and made an inventory of what our strengths and our weaknesses were," said Head Coach Emil Walton. "The losses weren’t indicative to our style of paly. We do perform better in a dry climate, but we also knew we needed to get the ball in our hands. We had some uncomfortable meetings I can tell you that, but there were things we needed to say. We talked about our meetings being bulletproof—you come in and put your [figurative] bulletproof vest on and we're honest about our shortcomings and talk about it, but also work to help each other."

The players embraced it, and certainly did in the second half of the semifinal.

Meanwhile, Bowling Green defeated Cincinnati 29-15. Joey Apel was excellent with his goalkicking, converting three tries and adding a penalty. Ben Young, Phil Tracey, and Griffin Black all scored tries. Late in the game with BGSU up by just a try at 22-15, Apel quick-tapped on a penalty and raced 25 meters down the sideline to ice the game.

Western Michigan defeated Cincinnati 58-10 to take 3rd in the MAC.

In the final, Louisville made a strategic decision to start their props who normally come on as subs—that pair is big and powerful whereas their normal starting props are more mobile. This would potentially wear down the Falcons early and then run them ragged late.

"Bowling Green and WMU both have heavy hitters up front," said Walton. "So we started really working with the forwards to get ready for the Bowling Green scrum. We're fortunate this year we have a very good bench and while it was a massive effort from everyone, we did get a shift in energy from our bench in both games."

With flanker Parker Anderson playing strong on both sides of the ball, scrumhalf Cameron Donlon moving the pace of the game nicely, and Aaron Stevenson being a stalwart, not to mention Matt Kramer's dominant performance in the forwards in the semi, Louisville prevailed 47-17.

It was a remarkable turnaround that had been the result of the bulletproof meetings and uncomfortable conversations.

"We definitely took a hard look at what we can fix," said Walton. "We were so focused on the missing 25% we didn't really focus on the 75% that we're good at and we can work with. We changed a few things in the way we utilize our attacking opportunities. We implemented some new things that work for us, and you can see the result."

Louisville now advances to the NCR DIAA quarterfinals where they will host Tennessee.