Defensive lineman George Selvie. Sacks Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox in Saturday’s win over the Tigers. ORACLE PHOTOS/JOSE LOPEZ JR.
In its 26-23 overtime win against Auburn on Saturday, the USF football team had to face a lot more than just the nation’s No. 17 team.
Over the course of the game at Jordan-Hare Stadium, USF had to overcome 80,000 roaring fans, four failed field goal attempts and even history itself.
Yet, even in the face of such adversity, the Bulls found a way to upset one of the most storied programs in college football.
“Perseverance is a powerful word,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “It is something that you talk about all the time. We talk about finishing and fighting until the end. I told them last night that if we are going to have a chance we are going to have to go into overtime. I thought it would come down until the end if we played the kind of game we needed to play.”
Even before taking the field, the Bulls knew what they were up against. Going into Saturday’s contest, the Tigers had won 22 of 23 straight games at home and held an all-time record of 256-62-7 at the stadium, including a 12-1 mark in night games.
Last year’s national champion Florida Gators suffered their only loss of the season at Jordan-Hare, the nation’s ninth largest on-campus stadium.
“I think it was a little louder than I thought it would be,” quarterback Matt Grothe said. “Twenty to 30 minutes before the game started everyone hadn’t gotten to their seats yet and I thought ‘you know, this isn’t so bad.’ Then kickoff happened. I don’t know how offense heard some of the audibles because I could barely hear myself.”
Despite facing such an intimidating environment, USF came out looking like a team that had something to prove.
On their second drive of the contest, the Bulls went ahead 7-0 on a 1-yard touchdown run by Grothe. Following an Auburn field goal, running back Mike Ford found the end zone on a 2-yard run to give USF a 14-3 lead.
By halftime, the Bulls had cooled down from their explosive start and Auburn was starting to look more like a No. 17 team. The Tigers scored two second-quarter touchdowns to give them a 17-14 lead heading into the locker room.
If the first half showed that the Bulls could compete with a ranked SEC opponent, the second half of the game showed their ability to overcome adversity.
Following a fumble recovery by defensive back Nate Allen on Auburn’s first drive of the half, Bulls’ kicker Delbert Alvarado missed the first of what would be four failed field goal attempts for the night.
While the sophomore kicker struggled in the game, his 18-yard game-tying field goal with 50 seconds left in the fourth quarter allowed the Bulls to go to overtime, where they now have an all-time record of 6-0.
“No, (I wasn’t worried) at all,” Alvarado said of his game-tying field goal attempt. “You want to be in that situation. You want redemption. As a kicker, you have to look forward to the next kick. So, I stepped on the field, I knew I was going to do it and I did what I had to do.”
Alvarado succeeded in redeeming himself, but the kicker might not have had the opportunity if it wasn’t for defensive back Jerome Murphy.
After a demoralizing field goal put the Tigers ahead 20-17 with 2:54 left in the game, Murphy took the ensuing kickoff and returned it 59 yards to the Auburn 32-yard line to set up Alvarado’s field-goal attempt.
The Bulls defense played its part in the win as well, holding the Tigers to 290 total yards and forcing five turnovers. Constant pressure from defensive end George Selvie caused problems all night for Auburn quarterback Brandon Cox. The senior was 16-of-35 for 165 yards and threw one touchdown and two interceptions, while Selvie had 1.5 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss in the game.
In overtime, the USF defense held the Tigers to only 2 yards of offense, forcing Auburn to settle for a 39-yard field goal to go ahead 23-20.
The Bulls’ offensive performance in overtime revolved around Grothe. In the six plays it took for USF to find the end zone, Grothe ran the ball four times before silencing the Jordan-Hare crowd by throwing the 14-yard game-winning touchdown to receiver Jessie Hester Jr.
Grothe finished the game with an impressive spread. The quarterback completed 18 of 27 passes for 184 yards and one touchdown and ran for 67 yards and another score.
While an emotional win of such magnitude would always be high on a player’s list of favorite games, Grothe was quick to call the victory his all-time favorite. Before the game even started, the sophomore quarterback had a reason to celebrate, and an upset win over a ranked opponent like Auburn was -fittingly – icing on the cake.
“This is probably my all-time favorite win just because it’s on my birthday,” Grothe said. “It’s my 21st birthday. You can’t ask for a better birthday present than that. I mean how many people in the world have heard of the school of Auburn? We just beat them.”