Another late play decided the outcome of a USF football game. This time, the Bulls were on the winning side.
Two touchdowns in the final 2:37 of play sent the USF football team (2-0) to a heart-stopping 32-31 road win over the Nevada Wolf Pack (1-1) at Mackay Stadium in Reno, Nevada. With a short week and the teams Big East opener looming on Thursday, the win was especially key.
Ho-hum, coach Skip Holtz said following the wild finish. Just another week of South Florida football, huh?
Senior quarterback B.J. Daniels delivered passes across and through the thin Reno air to finish the biggest fourth quarter comeback in school history, sealing the deal by leading the team 92 yards to the end zone, capped off by a 56-yard bomb to sophomore receiver Andre Davis, who fought off a defender and rumbled his way to the end zone.
Last year we got into the habit of playing in close football games, Holtz said. Hopefully this year we can get into the habit of winning them like we did today.
Nevadas famed pistol-offense, a mix between the shotgun and singleback formations, looked unstoppable early on, as the Wolf Pack marched down the field in its first three drives, led by quarterback Cody Fajardo, who ended the game with 134 rushing yards and two scores on the ground, along with 271 passing yards and a touchdown through the air.
USF responded after Nevadas second touchdown, when Daniels threw a strike to Davis, who shook a tackle and streaked 51 yards to score, a scene which would be revisited later in the game. Fajardo responded with a touchdown toss of his own, and the Bulls ended the first quarter down 15, facing the task of making the second-largest comeback in school history, behind USFs 17-point rally against Kansas in 2008.
I want to applaud Nevada, with what coach (Chris) Ault is doing there the discipline, theyre so fundamentally tough, they came off the ball a lot better than I
expected today, Holtz said. And that team is a lot better than I thought they were, from what I saw on film. I thought they were good, but they were even better than I expected.”
The USF defense snatched momentum in the second quarter when senior linebacker Sam Barrington put a stop to another solid Wolf Pack drive, stripping the ball for the first of his two forced fumbles, which was recovered by junior safety JaQuez Jenkins. Two more punts and a touchdown drive by the USF offense made it a manageable 21-13 game going into the locker room.
We say were not the same team as last year, said linebacker Mike Lanaris. Were learning how to finish, and were getting better and better.
Following the break, the Bulls offense established itself once again, driving 75 yards, capped off by a 35-yard scamper from running back Lindsey Lamar, who went from redshirt possibility to key cog in the teams offense after running back Marcus Shaw was injured. It was one of four touchdowns from 35 yards or farther for the Bulls, who struggled to make big offensive plays in 2011.
With Nevada on the brink of a momentum-changing touchdown following a muffed punt by Mitchell, Barrington struck again, leaping over the line and knocking the ball loose with his knee, forcing his second fumble of the day. The turnover was not enough, however, as the Wolf Pack ripped off 10 straight points, taking an 11-point lead with just over eight minutes remaining.
USFs comeback began when Daniels floated a pass deep into the slowly darkening sky and saw it land into the arms of receiver Chris Dunkley for a 52-yard touchdown the second 50 plus yard touchdown of the game. Despite the touchdown, the Bulls were on the wrong side of overwhelming odds, down five with 2:38 remaining, and no timeouts to stop the clock. Three Nevada first downs, and the game would be over. Despite the growing list of obstacles, Holtz said his quarterback remained calm as ever.
I thought B.J. did a great job. He was so poised that it actually was starting to piss me off a little bit, Holtz said. He was so poised and I was like, B.J., lets go! and he said, Calm down, we got it, were fine. I mean he was really poised, I think thats the main difference between him now and two years ago.
Three plays and a punt later, the Bulls faced their biggest challenge of the game: 98 seconds on the clock, no timeouts in their pocket and a 92-yard gap between the offense and the end zone.
I look at our team and Im so proud of the heart and desire that they had, Holtz said. I heard guys when we had two minutes left and we were forever away saying, keep going, weve worked too hard to give up now, were gonna win this thing.
Following quick hits to Davis and Dunkley to get the Bulls to the 44 yard line, the Bulls were set up to make the play that may become the highlight of the season.
Daniels threw up a pass to Davis, who snagged the ball despite being mauled by a Wolf Pack defender. Fifty-six yards later, Davis and his teammates were celebrating and the defense was preparing for one last stop.
We just wanted to take a shot down the field, offensive coordinator Todd Fitch said. Ill be honest with you, the safety kind of rolled over the top, B.J. gave us a chance and Andre made a heck of a catch for us.
Three hours after the Bulls took the field, they left it as an undefeated team with a big win over an upstart opponent under their belt.
Some guys really stepped up and made some great plays, he said, The defense needed a stop, they got it. The defense gets a stop, our offense is 90 yards away and they just go on a great drive, of course, Andre Davis making that great play, and B.J. threw it up to give him a chance.