September 27th, 2014

Bonnafon bona fide in first college start

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Paul Najjar

Senior Writer


Bonnafon bona fide in first college start
Former Trinity standout and UL quarterback Reggie Bonnafon rushes for a first down / photo and cover by Jamie Rhodes USA TODAY Sports

For a first college career start at the most important position on the football field, Reggie Bonnafon acquitted himself quite well. And while he may not have had as big an impact on the 20-10 Louisville win over Wake Forest late Saturday afternoon at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, the former Trinity high school standout definitely made his presence known.

In a performance marked by turnovers—three fumbles for Louisville (all by Bonnafon) and three interceptions for Wake Forest—penalties, the Cardinals committed 11 for 89 yards, and a general lethargy uncommon for a Bobby Petrino coached team, the biggest moment occurred on the first down of the fourth quarter. And it was the true freshman Bonnafon who made it.

Down 10-7, and with the Cards facing a 3rd-and-13 at the Deamon Deacons’ 49-yard line, the situation called for a big play, something the Louisville offense had been lacking all day. Petrino made the call, a speed option sweep for his talented quarterback against a dime defensive look from the stout Wake Forest unit, the maligned offensive line made the blocks and Bonnafon raced through an alley around the right end for a 16 yard gain and a first down.

And the home crowd of 51,463 exhaled a sigh of relief.

After a short Bonnafon run, he handed off five straight times to dynamic running back Brandon Radcliff who finished the drive with a score to give the Cards a 14-10 lead with 11:41 left. It was Radcliff’s second touchdown and he finished with 129 yards on 17 carries.

“It was great to see Brandon Radcliff come in and give us a big burst,” Petrino said. “He gave us a lot of energy. He was faster than the other guys out there.”

But it took a while to get Radcliff and that offense going. For every first down, Louisville had 21 of them, there seemed to be a turnover, a penalty or a negative play. The old, two-steps-forward-one-step-back dance.

Two fumbles and two punts punctuated Louisville’s first quarter output. A missed field goal and another punt gave the Cards zero points in six possessions. Radcliff’s 29 yard run gave Louisville its first points at 3:55 in the second quarter.

This team, though, is known for its defense. It is fast, relentless and tireless in its attack of the quarterback and single-minded in its approach to stopping the run.

“I’m very proud of our defense,” Petrino said. “They’re playing at a very high level and making a lot of big plays sacking the quarterback and it was great to see that. Anytime you’re able to stop the run and put them behind the sticks, we have an advantage. We turned the ball over and had some bad penalties that backed us up and put us behind the sticks.”

Late in the game, it was Bonnafon and Radcliff putting the Cards offense on track.

“He (Bonnafon) is very calm, easy to communicate with,” Petrino said of his freshman leader. “I liked the way he handled himself on the sideline and out on the field.”

Radcliff echoed his coach’s sentiments.

“Reggie was very poised,” Radcliff said. “It felt like he’d been playing the whole year. He got us hyped (up) and we had his back.”

Bonnafon finished 16-of-32 for 206 yards with his longest completion of 45 yards going to tight end Gerald Christian. He rushed for 71 yards on 10 carries, but lost 25 on sacks for a net total of 46.

All of this done after laying his father Wallace to rest just one week ago.

“What he was able to do all week long, come in and focus and prepare and concentrate after missing a whole when his father passed, I’m really impressed with him,” Petrino said. “You can’t say enough about how much maturity he’s shown in the last couple of weeks.”

From his perspective, Bonnafon tried to maintain an even keel and treat it like it was just another game. The first game without his father’s beaming smile, hearty laugh and sage wisdom to carry him through.

“I thought about my dad pre-game and the things he’d probably tell me before the game,” Bonnafon said. “He tells me to go out there and play my game and try not to force anything and not try to press plays that aren’t there. Once I got out there, all those other things just went away. Football is kind of like my safe haven. Once I got out there it was all football.”

And after helping lead the team to a win in his first start, just 10 months removed from his last high school game, Bonnafon reflected on what his dad would have told him.

“He would have told me he was proud of me, that he loved me and he would have given me a big hug.”

I have a feeling that that collective sigh of relief from the fans after his 16 yard run for a first down was exactly what his father would have done. Along with smiling that big smile, embracing his older brother and probably shedding a proud tear or two. 

 

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