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Bulls hold off late surge from Green Wave for 34-28 win

Saturday’s win over Tulane brought USF’s record to 7-0 for the first time in program history. THE ORACLE/CHAVELI GUZMAN

The Bulls made it to 7-0 for the first time in program history when they beat Tulane on Saturday, but the win was far from comfortable for the No. 17 Bulls.

After dominating in the first three quarters, USF gave up three unanswered touchdowns to Tulane (3-4) to close out the game — but still held on for a 34-28 win in front of an announced crowd of 17,256 at Yulman Stadium in New Orleans.

The six-point win was the Bulls’ slimmest margin of victory since they defeated East Carolina 22-17 on Nov. 7, 2015.

“It’s great to win the game, but we’ve just got to finish,”coach Charlie Strong said. “We gave up 14 points on defense there in the fourth quarter, but you’re on the road and you knew we’d get their best.”

The Bulls’ offense got up on the Green Wave early with two rushing touchdowns by running back Darius Tice and quarterback Quinton Flowers. After a blocked point after touchdown (PAT), the Bulls led the Green Wave 13-0 in the second quarter.

On the ensuing drive, however, Tulane quarterback Jonathan Banks connected with wide receiver Terren Enclade for a 73-yard touchdown.

Despite the Green Wave score, the Bulls maintained control of the game, scoring twice more in the second quarter, which included a 38-yard touchdown pass from Flowers to wide receiver Darnell Salomon right before halftime.

On their first drive of the second half, the Bulls scored again. On their next drive, running back D’Ernest Johnson punched in a 2-yard touchdown run to extend the Bulls’ lead to 34-7. 

The Bulls wouldn’t score again the rest of the game, but the Green Wave found little issue in doing so.

“When you get up like that, it’s all about your finish,” Strong said. “We didn’t finish the game. Guys gotta go make plays and guys gotta continue to play and you play until the whistle blows.”

The Green Wave scored once in the third quarter and twice in the last 10 minutes of the game. After both scores, Tulane opted to try for an onside kick. Both times, however, wide receiver Tyre McCants recovered the ball for the Bulls — potentially saving USF from suffering its first loss of the season.

Averaging 10.8 yards over 13 carries, Tice shouldered a large part of the USF offense, using his powerful North and South running style throughout the night.

Possibly his biggest run, however, was his last.

With less than two minutes to play, Tice ran for 30 yards on a 3rd down that prevented Tulane from possessing the ball again — sealing the win for the Bulls.

“Tice, he had to run like that the whole game,” Strong said. “You look at his first touchdown, he goes right down the middle of their defense. It was fun to watch him run the ball and just watch him close it out.”

Flowers rushed for 138 yards and a touchdown on the night, while throwing for 127 yards and two touchdowns. 

“I’ve never played against a player like him,” Tulane cornerback Donnie Lewis told the Tampa Bay Times. “I’m at a loss for words. He can do a lot with his feet. He’s the leader of that team and he just plays with confidence.”

By scoring 34 points in the win, the Bulls now hold the record for consecutive games scoring 30-plus points outright (24). Though it came down to the wire at the end, Strong recognized that any win is a good one.

“You just have to find a way to win the game and that’s what we did,” Strong said. “We found a way to win the football game.”

Tice agreed.

“We probably got a little comfortable,” Tice said. “We should’ve kept playing hard, but at the end of the day it’s hard to win a game of college football. We’re happy with the victory, we’ll work on the rest later.”