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A pair of Shelby Countians contributed to the University of Louisville football team’s stunning victory over Florida in the Sugar Bowl on Wednesday night in New Orleans.
Shelby County High School graduate Matt Nakatani is a redshirt sophomore placekicker, and Collins graduate Austin Crowe is a sophomore student equipment manager for the Cardinals, who surprisingly flogged fourth-ranked Florida, 33-23, in the Superdome.
“I’m proud to be a part of it,” Crowe said via cellular phone from New Orleans on Thursday afternoon. “It was incredible, walking in there, having been underdogs all week, then they just played out of their minds all game.”
The Gators were more than a 2-touchdown favorite when Bowl Championship Series game kicked off, but UofL quickly took a 2-TD lead thanks to Terrell Floyd’s 38-yard interception return for a touchdown on the first play and Jeremy Wright’s 1-yard TD run that capped the Cards’ first possession.
Following a field goal by Florida, Louisville added to its lead with a 27-yard field goal from John Wallace and a 15-yard touchdown pass from Teddy Bridgewater to DeVante Parker. The latter gave UofL a 24-3 lead and had the Cards-partisan crowd going crazy.
“It was like playing at home,” Crowe said.
Crowe left Louisville at midnight, with other members of the Cards’ support staff, by bus on Christmas night and arrived in New Orleans the next afternoon. The team flew in the following day.
Included among those was Nakatani, who was the Cards’ No. 2 kicker on the depth chart (behind Wallace) entering the Sugar Bowl.
In his first, and only appearance this season, Nakatani was 2-for-2 on field goals and 3-for-3 on point-after-touchdown kicks in Louisville’s second game of the season, its 35-7 victory over Missouri State back on Sept. 8. (Thanks to that game, Nakatani finished the season 11th on the team in scoring with nine points).
Both players could be seen on the ESPN telecast of the game. Crowe was caught on camera once catching punts in the pregame, which he said prompted several text messages from back home.
After the game Crowe could be seen, on at least one Louisville television station, handing out celebratory T-shirts to the players. Following the on-field celebration, and after the locker room had been packed up, Crowe said he was able to meet up with some family and friends to bask in the glory of the Cards’ victory.
The Sports Administration major said he went to sleep around 4 a.m. Thursday but was up again at 7 a.m. to “make sure all the players were packed.”
“I’m alive,” Crowe said a few hours later.
“I have to say ‘thank you,’ to everyone in the county, from [Collins football] coach [Jerry] Lucas to Coach Z [Shelby County Athletic Director Sally Zimmerman] and my mom and dad.…All the people who got me here,” Crowe said as he prepared to board a bus bound for Louisville. “I’m still kind of in disbelief, but I’m proud to say I’ll be coming back to Shelby County a Sugar Bowl champ. It’s amazing.”