Coach Jim Leavitt got the Gatorade shower, players were giving high-five to each other with smiles. And there was a party at midfield as the South Florida football team hoisted the magic Jack St. Petersburg Bowl trophy.
All of this after the South Florida offense threw a party of its own, as the Bulls finished the season with a 41-14 victory over the Memphis Tigers.
“For some reason man, this game, this bowl and this win is so big,” said Carlton Mitchell, sophomore wide receiver. “This team is so close, and the seniors are such a big part of our lives. We all have this great relationship, and to win today feels good.”
Mitchell, who had 60 yards receiving, and the rest of the Bulls offense racked up 496 yards in front of an announced home crowd of 25,205, including a performance by junior quarterback Matt Grothe that gave him the Most Outstanding Player award.
Grothe went 17-for-24 passing and had 236 yards through the air and three touchdowns, as well as 83 yards rushing on 15 carries.
Coach Jim Leavitt said Grothe’s feat was the difference for USF. The Bulls hadn’t scored over 20 points in a game since a 45-17 victory over Syracuse on Oct. 18.
Grothe surpassed 10,000 total yards of offense in his career, which only one other player in Big East history has ever done, West Virginia quarterback’s Pat White.
“Matt played great today,” Leavitt said. “He threw it, he ran, he did everything good.”
The USF offense was having so much success that other than a Grothe quick kick in the first quarter, it didn’t even punt the ball until the 11-minute mark in the fourth quarter.
Memphis, however, punted quite often.
The Tigers were held by the USF defense to 238 yards. Memphis running back Curtis Steele said he found it hard to find any holes in the Bulls’ defense.
“They were a lot bigger up front, stronger up front and they were faster,” he said. “We realized we couldn’t run east to west and had to run north to south.”
It didn’t take long for South Florida to score the St. Petersburg Bowl’s inaugural touchdown. After sophomore Dontavia Bogan returned the opening kickoff 56 yards, USF scored on a 26 yard touchdown reception by senior Taurus Johnson.
“It was big for us to get out to a fast start,” Johnson said.
Despite controlling the game, the Tigers hung around and only trailed 24-14 at halftime. The Bulls, however, scored 17 unanswered points in the second half to seal the victory.
For offensive coordinator Greg Gregory it was the look in the senior’s eyes, after the game was over, that made him most content. Gregory’s son, Grant, who is a senior, played most of the fourth quarter at quarterback.
“(Grant) was devastated after the game with emotion,” Gregory said. “He was out here after the game in tears. You wish it meant that much to all the players, but it sure meant a lot to him.”
Another senior who was emotional after the game was Johnson. As the Bulls were celebrating on the 50 yard line at the end of the game, Johnson lifted the St. Petersburg Bowl trophy and said, “We did it!”
“This has been about relationships,” Johnson said. “The team, the coaches and building relationships, that’s what it’s about. We have these memories with us for the rest of our lives, so that’s definitely what I’ll remember.”
The South Florida 2008 senior class won 32 games together — the most for a class in the program’s history.