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USF digs deep for third straight win

What’s most impressive to coach Skip Holtz about his team grinding out another Big East victory is that the Bulls responded each time their backs were against the wall.

After a third straight conference win – a 24-21 victory over Louisville on Saturday – USF remains in the middle of the hunt for its first Big East title while setting up a huge home showdown with Pittsburgh on Saturday.

Sophomore kicker Maikon Bonani, who missed a 52-yard field goal that would have won the game at the end of regulation, made amends by hitting a 37-yarder to seal the win on USF’s first offensive possession in overtime.

The win marked USF’s first win at Louisville.

“Great win for the program, really, a great win for the program,” Holtz said. “We’ve talked to our players all week about the score when we played up here the last three years, which was 104-39, or something like that, and I keep hearing that South Florida has never won here at Louisville, and there were a lot of challenges that we put on this team. This team worked extremely hard all week, and I thought they really handled some adversity.”

With the win, the Bulls also became bowl eligible for the sixth consecutive season. USF hosts Pittsburgh next week, followed by a road game at Miami and the home finale against Connecticut.

“It’s just good to keep that thing going,” defensive end Patrick Hampton said of the bowl streak. “It’s great for our program. Everybody loves bowl games.”

Again, sophomore quarterback B.J. Daniels struggled for most of the game, but he hit senior Dontavia Bogan for a 52-yard touchdown to give the Bulls a 21-14 lead early in the fourth quarter.

“That was big,” said Daniels, who finished 11-of-19 with 87 yards and two touchdowns. “Bogan made a good catch. That was an unbelievable catch.”

Louisville held a 14-3 lead just before halftime when sophomore Lindsey Lamar returned a kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown, his second tochdown return on a kickoff this season. The Bulls added a Bonani field goal in the third quarter before Daniels hit Bogan.

Louisville tied the game 21-21 on a third-and-goal from the 10-yard line with 1:21 remaining in regulation, giving USF’s defense a chance to redeem itself.

For the third consecutive game, the Bulls defense made a key fourth-down stop late in the game when it stuffed Louisville on a quarterback sneak on fourth and inches with the Cardinals nearing the end zone in overtime, giving Bonani a second chance.

“To be honest I’m just glad to help the team,” Bonani said. “When we got to overtime and you see our defense rallying like they did and stopping them on fourth-and-inches, pretty much from there on I was like, ‘I have to do my job.’ I failed to do so at the end of regulation. I’m just happy to help the team.”