PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Teddy Bridgewater couldn’t take a snap from center because of a broken wrist, and had a hitch in his step because of a sore ankle.
The Louisville quarterback was too banged-up to start, but more than well enough to finish off Rutgers and send the Cardinals to the Bowl Championship Series.
Bridgewater came off the bench to throw two-second half touchdown passes, and John Wallace kicked a 29-yard field goal with 1:41 left to give Louisville a 20-17 victory against Rutgers on Thursday night in what was essentially the Big East championship game.
In a game between one team headed to the Big Ten and another bound for the Atlantic Coast Conference, the Big East handed out its second-to-last BCS bid to a school that entered the league during its last massive rebuild in 2005 and watched its athletic program blossom.
The Cardinals will be going to the BCS for the second time, first since 2006. Either the Orange or Sugar Bowl will be the destination.
Louisville (10-2, 5-2) will share this Big East title with Rutgers (9-3, 5-2), Syracuse and possibly even Cincinnati, but those guys only get a banner. The Cardinals get the ticket to the big game. The BCS standings will be used to break the tie and there is no doubt Louisville, with the best overall record in the conference, will be on top.
Bridgewater didn’t start a week after getting roughed up in a loss to Connecticut. He broke his left wrist and sprained his right ankle. He entered for the first time against Rutgers in the second quarter and finished 20 for 28 for 263 yards and threw a pair of TD passes in the third quarter to wipe out a 14-3 deficit.
‘‘They have a tremendous playmaker at the quarterback position,’’ first-year Rutgers coach Kyle Flood said. ‘‘We just weren’t able to match him in the end.’’
Cardinals linebacker James Burgess picked off a pass that bounced off Timmy Wright’s hands with 3:53 left in the fourth quarter in Rutgers territory, and Bridgewater hit Andrell Smith on a slant for 30 yards to put Louisville in field goal range. Wallace booted through the short kick to give Louisville a 3-point lead.
Rutgers’s last chance ended when Gary Nova threw deep, but his receiver stopped short. Terrell Floyd made an over the shoulder interception with 1:06 left. Nova bent over and grabbed his helmet in disgust.
The Scarlet Knights, the only team that has played in the Big East since it started playing football in 1991, probably will have only one more shot to win the conference for the first time before moving to the Big Ten.
Louisville can add one of the biggest wins in school history to an already memorable week for the school, which was in Conference USA just eight years ago. On Wednesday, Louisville announced it was joining the ACC after at least one more season in the Big East.
Rutgers was up, 14-3, at the half after Nova hooked up with his big receivers for two long TD passes — an 85-yarder to Brandon Coleman and a 68-yard play by Mark Harrison. Nova finished 13 for 28 for 284 yards.
The Scarlet Knights were poised for another big play in the third quarter when a fake field goal turned into a touchdown pass from holder J.T. Tartacoff to DC Jefferson. It would have made the score 21-3, but a penalty wiped out the play and Rutgers punted from the Louisville 31.
Everything changed from there.
Bridgewater and the Cardinals put together a 90-yard drive that took 14 plays and nearly eight minutes and cut the lead to 14-10 when the quarterback flipped a pass to Jeremy Wright, who scooted 14 yards for a touchdown.
The Cardinals needed only 16 more seconds to take the lead.
Burgess stuck kick returner Jeremy Dearing in the chest, forcing a fumble recovered by Calvin Pryor. Bridgewater went right to work, floating a deep ball to DeVante Parker for a 20-yard touchdown pass.
Just like that, it was 17-14 and Scarlet Knights fans fell silent.