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Louisville slugs Wake Forest 24-15

Thanks to a late rally, Louisville remains on the rise.

The fifth-ranked Cardinals are assured of the highest final ranking in school history after mounting two long, late touchdown drives Tuesday night to beat No. 15 Wake Forest 24-13 in the Orange Bowl.

“We are on the upswing to be a powerhouse,” receiver Harry Douglas said.

Shortly after their first major-bowl victory in 15 years, the Cardinals were talking about finishing No. 1 a year from now. The Cardinals (12-1) blew an 18-point lead in their lone loss at Rutgers, which likely cost them a chance to play for this season’s national title.

“We start off with a high ranking next year,” said receiver Patrick Carter, who threw a touchdown pass. “We’ve proved ourselves, and we need to keep proving ourselves.”

A majority of starters return next season for coach Bobby Petrino — assuming he’s back for a fifth season with the Cardinals. Brian Brohm, who threw for 311 yards and was chosen the game’s most valuable player, said he’s leaning toward returning for his senior season next fall.

“We’ve got a great team coming back, and it’d be hard to pass up,” Brohm said. “Right now, coming back and trying to win a national title looks very appealing.”

Even the Cardinals’ seniors look forward to the program’s future.

“It’s something you can tell your grandkids about it — you were here with coach Petrino when it all started,” running back Kolby Smith said.

The Cardinals averaged 39 points and ranked second in the nation in total offense this season, but fell behind 13-10 in the final period before their high-powered offense went into gear. Touchdown drives of 81 and 71 yards on consecutive possessions sealed their first win in a major bowl since the 1991 Fiesta Bowl.

Anthony Allen scored two touchdowns, one on a trick play. Douglas made 10 catches for 165 yards.

Brohm finished 24-for-34, and his yardage total was the third-highest in Orange Bowl history, behind only Michigan’s Tom Brady and Southern Cal’s Matt Leinart. He completed 9 of 11 passes for 124 yards in the final period.

“He definitely took control of the game,” Carter said. “He showed his leadership there and ran the team really efficiently. That’s what put us up over the top.”

The Demon Deacons (11-3) still finished with their best season.

“Looking back on our season, you definitely have to be happy with what we did,” linebacker Jon Abbate said. “We turned the corner for Wake Forest football.”

Through three quarters, the Demon Deacons appeared on the verge of an upset, as mistakes plagued the Cardinals. They lost two fumbles in Wake Forest territory, Mario Urrutia dropped a potential touchdown pass, and Art Carmody was wide right on a 32-yard field goal attempt, only his fourth miss this season. A 14-yard Louisville punt led to a Wake Forest field goal.

“That’s like turning over the ball four times, and that can haunt you,” Petrino said.

The Demon Deacons also failed to convert several scoring chances. They committed three turnovers in Cardinal territory, and after moving 36 yards in the final minute of the first half, Sam Swank missed a 47-yard field goal.

“Too many mistakes,” coach Jim Grobe said.

But Swank made a 36-yarder to cap a 61-yard drive and put the Demon Deacons ahead 13-10 early in the fourth quarter.

The Cardinals responded with an eight-play drive capped by Allen’s 1-yard plunge for a 17-13 lead with 12:31 to go. They quickly forced a punt, and mounted a 10-play drive that ended with Brock Bolen’s 18-yard scoring run.

Wake Forest’s Riley Skinner went 21-for-33 for 271 yards with one touchdown and one interception.