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Bulls hold Pirates at bay

Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling had both a rushing touchdown and receiving touchdown in USF’s win over East Carolina Saturday. SPECIAL TO THE ORACLE/GOUSFBULLS

In contrast to when USF held Temple to 85 yards of total offense in its conference opener, the Bulls were in a high-scoring, back-and-forth battle in the first half Saturday against East Carolina, with the scoreboard reading 31-24 at halftime.

In the second half, however, USF’s defense returned to its regular form and the offense maintained its scoring prowess, outscoring ECU 30-7 in the second half for a 61-31 win in front of a reported crowd of 34,883 at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

“We just started playing, we didn’t do that the first half,” coach Charlie Strong said about the defense. “We were back on our heels and they made a couple of throws. Then we just got settled down and just kind of limited what we were doing. When we limited what we were doing, they started playing and playing within themselves.”

The Pirates’ offense gained 279 yards of total offense in the first half, 204 of which came from the arm of ECU quarterback Thomas Sirk. After halftime, however, Sirk and the Pirates managed just 135 yards of total offense.

“We didn’t have enough in the end to play with them at the end of the third quarter and into the fourth quarter,” ECU coach Scottie Montgomery said. “What we have to realize is, this is the standard we have to catch. We’ve got to catch South Florida and their talent.”

USF quarterback Quinton Flowers threw for two touchdowns and 160 yards and ran for 93 yards and a touchdown in the win.

“Whenever he gets going, with the way he runs the football, it opens up the whole offense,” Strong said about Flowers. “His throwing game, he took advantage of it. When Quinton is going, then this offense is going to go.”

The 93 rushing yards brought Flowers’ career total to 2,989, making him the state’s all-time leading rusher among Division I-A quarterbacks — surpassing Tim Tebow who had 2,947 rushing yards in his four-year career at Florida.

“I’m happy that a lot of them will be graduating, especially the quarterback,” Montgomery said. “I thought he was just as good as we thought he was. He picked his spots on the field… He played at an extremely high level.”

Like his quarterback, wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling scored a touchdown in two different ways Saturday.

His first, a 75-yard rushing touchdown off of a jet sweep, gave the Bulls a two-touchdown lead in the second quarter. Then, in the second half, Valdes-Scantling began the Bulls’ 16-point scoring run to close the game with a 4-yard touchdown reception from Flowers.

“Valdes just stepped up,” Strong said. “He made the big run of 75, then he had another touchdown. He had some big catches and we were able to convert on third down, and he got a pass interference down there in the end zone.”

With the win, USF extended its streak of games with at least 30 points scored to 22 games, which is only one off the AP Poll era record set by Oregon from 2011-12.

The Bulls, who are currently ranked fifth in both rushing offense and defense, ran for a season high 390 yards against the Pirates.

With a bye-week this week, USF will have two weeks to prepare for Cincinnati (2-3) and it’s ninth-from-last rushing defense that had relinquished an average of 237 rushing yards per game.

Not to be forgotten in a game filled with offense, cornerback Mazzi Wilkins and linebacker Auggie Sanchez each picked off a pass in the win, increasing USF’s nation-leading total interceptions to 14. Utah and Central Michigan, both of which have nine, are tied for second place in the same category.

Despite the 30-point win, USF didn’t budge in the AP Poll rankings and is still ranked 18th. In the Coaches Poll, USF moved up one spot from 17th to 16th.

UCF, which USF travels to play in the last game of the season on Nov. 24, made it into the AP Top-25 for the first time this season, coming in at No. 25. The Knights are currently the only ranked opponent USF faces in the 2017 regular season.


Additional reporting by Sam Newlon