Final play becomes instant classic for USF

Quarterback Matt Grothe threw for 184 yards and one touchdown. His lone touchdown came during in overtime to give USF a 26-23 victory over Auburn. ORACLE PHOTO/JOSE LOPEZ JR.

AUBURN- One play left the crowd of 82,617 stunned and likely has given the Bulls enough of a push to earn their first-ever ranking in the polls.

Matt Grothe’s 14-yard touchdown pass to Jessie Hester Jr. may have become the most memorable single play in team history.

Hester’s catch came right in front of the raucous Auburn students, where most of the deafening noise originated all night.

For Hester, the greatest part of the play was the crowds’ reaction after the catch.

“Dead silence; it was the best sound I ever heard,” Hester said. “To make that many people get quiet at once is pretty


For Grothe, who was celebrating his 21st birthday, the aftermath was different.

“I couldn’t hear anything, all I could hear was (the USF section in) the back left corner,” Grothe said. “I don’t know what to say … it was awesome.”

Once the Bulls’ defense forced Auburn to kick a field goal in overtime, defensive end George Selvie was certain his team was going to come away with the victory.

“That series was a big series. We knew we had to stop them and just let them get a field goal,” Selvie said. “I trusted the offense to get in the end zone and knew that we were going to win the game.”

USF pulled off its first victory over a Southeastern Conference opponent in remarkable fashion. After five straight running plays, including four by Grothe, the Bulls opened their playbook and seized the opportunity presented to them by Auburn.

With the Tigers’ defense

keying in on the rushing attack of Grothe and running back Mike Ford, the Bulls knew their best chance to end the game was on second-and-10.

USF’s chance to close out the game with a win, a change was needed from the conservative rushing attack in overtime, which netted just 11 yards on five attempts.

“I didn’t know how it was going to happen but with so many playmakers on our team I knew it was going to happen,” receiver Amarri Jackson said. “I was running my route so I don’t know exactly what happened. All I know is that Jessie made the biggest play in history for us.”

Grothe took the snap, dropped back three steps and delivered a perfect pass to Hester, as the sophomore receiver beat senior strong safety Eric Brock to the left side of the field and found the corner of the end zone untouched.

“We had tried to run that play a couple of times earlier in the game and we knew it was going to be there if they ran a cover-2 or man coverage,” Grothe said. “That (play) was called. It happened the exact way we were hoping for.”

Hester agreed.

“That was a play we just put in this week,” Hester said. “We had worked so hard to come back and I had so many people counting on me that I knew I had to catch it.”

With so much riding on the line for USF, Hester – who had already caught five passes in the contest – did everything in his power to ensure the Bulls victory.

“I tried to catch it, make sure I was in bounds and then once I caught it, I probably did squeeze it real hard,” Hester said. “It took a while to realize the game was actually over I was ready to get it going all over again.”

The Bulls execution on the play is what stood out to coach Jim Leavitt.

“How about that. Jessie really made some great catches. Just a beautiful throw to the corner,” Leavitt said. “In my mind I thought it would come down to the end if we played the kind of game we needed to play.”

Once the game was over and the entire team swarmed him, Hester began celebrating and was interviewed on ESPN. But the impact of the catch still hasn’t registered with him yet.

“Maybe in the morning I’ll realize how big that catch was,” Hester said. “But for now I’m just going to enjoy the win and celebrate with my teammates.”

Brendan Galella can be reached at (813) 974-2842 or