MEMPHIS, Tenn.—Cecil Sapp and the Colorado State Rams played a great game of keepaway today.
The sophomore ran for a career-high 160 yards and a touchdown, and C.W. Hurst kicked three field goals as the No. 23 Rams held onto the ball for more than 35 minutes in beating Louisville 22-17 in the Liberty Bowl.
But Sapp wore down the 22nd-ranked Cardinals, who had allowed only Florida State's Travis Minor to top 100 yards this season. Sapp said it all went according to plan for the Rams (10-2).
The offensive coordinator told me he wanted to give me the ball 40 times, said Sapp, who had a bowl-record 36 carries, topping the 35 attempts by Colorado's Bob Anderson in 1969 against Alabama.
I ran 36 times for 160 yards. I could still go out there and play another football game.
Running the ball was an excellent idea on a day where the temperature dipped into the mid-20s by halftime with the wind chill hovering at 0 due to wind gusting up to 28 mph. Sapp, a Florida native, said his job is to carry the ball and that he ignored the weather.
Louisville end Dewayne White said Sapp took advantage of the Rams' big bodies on the offensive line, popping out whenever he saw light. Teammate Rashad Harris said Colorado State just controlled the game.
At the end of the game, they just stuffed it down our throats, Harris said.
The weather didn't bother Louisville as much as Colorado State's defense. The Cardinals had scored at least 32 points in every victory this season outgained the Rams 397 yards to 315, but they had only the ball for 25 offensive plays in the first half.
The Rams also shut out Louisville in the third quarter, only the second time that's happened this season.
They're a physical group and did a good job running it, said Louisville coach John L. Smith, 0-3 in bowl games with the Cardinals. When it came time to control the game and be physcial, they did that. They got after us on the line of scrimmage and made it the type of game they wanted to play, which was more of a physical game and it worked.
The Cardinals also had forced more turnovers this season than any other Division I-A team except Florida. But Colorado State recovered three fumbles, one of which it converted into a 16-yard reverse by Frank Rice that made it 16-10 at halftime.
We cannot turn the ball over and expect to beat a good football team like they are, Smith said. We had to win the turnover battle, and we did not get it done.
Dave Ragone, Conference USA's offensive player of the year, tried to rally a team that had won four games this season despite trailing at halftime.
He pulled the Cardinals within 19-17 early in the fourth quarter with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Deion Branch, who tied a bowl record with 10 receptions. But that would be all the Cardinals would get, and their final drive ended with 3:10 left as John Howell sacked Ragone on fourth-and-7.
Ragone was 24-of-37 for 321 yards and two touchdowns, while Branch finished with 170 yards receiving.
Colorado State earned redemption after losing this game 23-17 last year to Southern Mississippi with the slimmest margin of victory since Georgia beat Arkansas 20-17 in 1987 in the bowl now sponsored by the AXA Financial Group.
The Rams trailed 10-3 when they scored 13 straight points with a 2-yard TD run by Sapp and Rice's reverse for the halftime lead. Hurst also had field goals of 24, 21 and 32 yards.
Ragone put Louisville up 7-3 with a 58-yard TD pass to Damien Dorsey who scored on a catch-and-run in the first quarter.
But the Cardinals missed some opportunities against a Rams defense that was stingiest near the goal line. Louisville settled for a 24-yard field goal by Nathan Smith for a 10-3 lead early in the second quarter.
On the first play of their next series, Rams cornerback Terrence Gibson knocked the ball away from receiver Ronnie Ghent and Rick Crowell recovered for Colorado State.