LOUISVILLE — Defense kept Louisville in the game Saturday.
Defense won the game for West Virginia, though.
The Mountaineers stuffed U of L's ground game and its hopes of becoming bowl eligible, winning 17-10 at Papa John's Cardinal Stadium.
"A very disappointing loss," U of L Coach Charlie Strong said. "Just no execution on offense. Never were able to get in rhythm."
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In the home finale for 25 seniors, U of L (5-6, 2-4 Big East) completed its first losing home record (3-4) since 1997. The Cardinals get one last shot at becoming bowl eligible, Friday at Rutgers.
"It's a one-game playoff," defensive end Rodney Gnat said. "It's do or die."
What was billed as a showdown between West Virginia's conference-best defense and Louisville's conference-best rushing offense was no contest.
The Mountaineers (7-3, 3-2) held the Cards to 26 yards on 30 attempts. Bilal Powell, fifth in the nation with an average of 134.1 yards per game, carried four times, all in the first half, for no yards.
"Bilal had been battling an illness the last couple of days," Strong said. "I think more of his issue (rather than injury) was he was fatigued."
Vic Anderson fared worse — three carries for minus-7. U of L's leading rusher was punter Chris Philpott, who converted a fourth-down fake by sprinting 21 yards.
The Cards converted only two of 13 third downs.
West Virginia, fourth nationally with an average of 253.3 yards against, held U of L to 171. No team has scored more than 21 points on the Mountaineers.
Still, the Cardinals had chances to at least tie in the fourth quarter.
They turned over the ball on downs at the Mountaineers' 46 with 4:59 left when Josh Chichester dropped Justin Burke's fourth-and-six pass.
Chichester redeemed himself with 2:33 left, when he deflected Tyler Bitancurt's 41-yard field-goal attempt.
"You just felt like you could get into the two-minute rhythm and we could get the ball and just move it down the field," Strong said.
Next play, though, Burke's pass to Cameron Graham was tipped. Keith Tandy made the interception, his sixth of the season, and West Virginia ran out the clock.
"He made a good play on it," said Burke, a Lexington Catholic graduate. "I probably forced it. Should have just got a positive play on the first play in the two-minute."
The Cardinals took the opening kickoff, drove 43 yards in eight plays, got a 43-yard field goal from Philpott, then took the day off.
Louisville's touchdown came when Gnat sacked and forced a fumble by Geno Smith. Daniel Brown recovered in the end zone.
Still, the Cardinals hung around, thanks to their defense.
West Virginia was held to 261 yards. U of L held an opponent under 200 passing and 300 total yards for the fifth game in a row, only to be frustrated on the scoreboard.
"It's tough, but it's the thing of life — you've got to jump over obstacles," said Brown, who led the team with seven tackles. "You've got to hurdle them. Just come out and never give up."
West Virginia answered Philpott's field goal with a 2-yard touchdown run by Noel Devine.
Brown's touchdown, with 10:24 left in the half, gave U of L a 10-7 lead.
West Virginia answered again, though, with a 2-yard TD run by Ryan Clarke.
Moments earlier, Smith was in shotgun formation and trying to call timeout when the ball was snapped. Unable to grab the ball, he covered up. Officials ruled Smith had been granted the timeout, though.
When play resumed, the Mountaineers cashed in their big gainer of the day, a 48-yard pass from Smith to Devine. Clarke scored on the next play. Bitancurt's 43-yard field goal early in the third quarter extended West Virginia's lead to 17-10.
"What a fine football game that was," said Bill Stewart, coach of the Mountaineers. "For people who are old school like me, that was a defensive football game, that was a tough football game, and it was on the road."
Louisville's six losses have come by a total of 49 points.
"What they have to realize," Strong said, "if they want to get to a bowl game, they have one more to play. So let's go win the next one."
n West Virginia has won four straight against U of L and leads the all-time series 10-3.
n Philpott punted eight times for an average of 45.9 yards. Included was a 73-yarder, fourth-longest in school history.
n His 21-yard run was the longest by a U of L punter since game-by-game records have been recorded (1978).
n West Virginia's Gregg Pugnetti averaged 44.9 yards on seven punts.
n Jock Sanders caught two passes for 11 yards, giving him 191 career receptions — tied with David Saunders (1995-98) for West Virginia's school record.