ORLANDO — The rivalry is over.
The No. 19 University of South Florida football team needed overtime, but escaped Bright House Networks Stadium with a 31-24 win over the University of Central Florida Knights.
The Bulls finished the four-year series 4-0 against UCF.
“I probably like this one the best just because I can’t stand them,” junior quarterback Matt Grothe said. “I’m glad we’re done playing them and I’m sick of them talking crap and not being able to back it up.”
USF coach Jim Leavitt said he was happy with the win.
“To beat a team four times in a row is pretty tough to do,” Leavitt said. “Especially against Central Florida — they are a very good football team.”
The Bulls led 24-10 with just under four minutes left in the fourth quarter. Then, UCF defensive end Bruce Miller intercepted Grothe’s pass.
The play set up the first of two touchdown passes for junior quarterback Michael Grecco, which tied the game at 24.
“We made a lot of mistakes, and we didn’t use our judgment with three minutes to go in the game,” Leavitt said. “We just got lax, and there was no reason for the game to even get to overtime. We had the game under control with (four) minutes to go.”
The Bulls got the ball back and drove to UCF’s 20-yard line, setting up junior Delbert Alvarado for a 37-yard field goal and a chance to win the game in regulation. A delay-of-game penalty pushed the kick back five yards, and Alvarado missed the attempt.
“You can put that on me,” Leavitt said. “I thought we had more time there to get those guys lined up. I can’t fault anybody else for that. There’s no excuse there. There really isn’t.”
The miss was the third of the season for Alvarado. He missed a 46-yard attempt against Tennessee-Martin and had one kick blocked along with his late-game miss Saturday.
“I am very disappointed in our field goal team and yes, I have to look at different things there,” Leavitt said. “We have to try something different and get something squared away.”
Even with their special teams woes, the Bulls managed to score on their third play in overtime.
Grothe — who had 400 yards of total offense (346 passing, 54 rushing) and three passing touchdowns — hit senior wide receiver Taurus Johnson for a 25-yard touchdown.
“Johnson told me before the play that he’s got me, and he made a great play,” Grothe said.
Johnson — who finished the game with 143 yards and a touchdown — said he was happy the play was called.
“Coach (Greg) Gregory called that play at the perfect time,” Johnson said. “It came in, we executed it and it was a touchdown.”
The win was similar to last season’s victory over then-No. 17 Auburn, when the Bulls went to Jordan-Hare Stadium and beat the Tigers: It was the second week of the season, on the road, and ended with a Grothe touchdown pass in overtime.
Grothe said Saturday’s game reminded him of last year’s win — although it wasn’t any better in his mind.
“I think last year’s win was more exciting. That win set us off last year,” Grothe said. “I’m glad we got the win, but we still have a lot to work on.”
After the touchdown, the Bulls stopped a scrambling Grecco on fourth-and-6 with no more than an inch to spare. The ball was just a little more than one chain link away from a first down.
Senior linebackers Tyrone McKenzie and Brouce Mompremier met Grecco near the first-down marker and made the game-saving tackle.
“After the play I looked over at the sidelines and said, ‘We got it,'” McKenzie said.
Leavitt also praised the play.
“Unbelievable,” he said. “I thought the way they came in and made that tackle was really tremendous.”