Emotions swarmed Raymond James on Saturday as USF football faced a heart wrenching 46-39 defeat to UCF.
Between 32,217 fans saturating the stadium and intense rivalry between the Bulls (1-11, 0-8 AAC) and Knights (9-3, 6-2 AAC), the crowd showed an electrifying energy that has not been seen at any home game this season.
Freshman quarterback Byrum Brown described the feeling as unreal.
“I did go to the sideline with [junior quarterback Gerry Bohanon] and I was like, ‘It’s loud!” Brown said. “It was definitely amazing to have that type of environment.”
The Bulls started slow with just one touchdown in the second quarter. After only one score for the entire first half, they came back with 22 points in the third quarter alone. USF closed the deficit and was ahead by one point in the middle of the fourth quarter.
Nonetheless, the lead was short lived as the Knights secured their game-winning touchdown with 20 seconds left on the clock. And South Florida failed its attempt at a near impossible comeback after an incomplete Hail Mary pass to freshman wide receiver Holden Willis in the back of the end zone in the last second of the game.
USF didn’t take the infamous War on 1-4 trophy back for the sixth year in a row, and it will stay in Orlando for the foreseeable future. Despite the hurt locker room, here are some key players that shined Saturday.
Brown takes the game into his own hands
Brown’s 65% completion rate was botched by a series of incomplete catchable passes during a slow first half. One of the passes was in the second quarter, where Willis spoiled a ball in his fingertips at the Bulls’ 48-yard line, letting UCF junior defensive back Justin Hodges intercept the play.
Brown described the plays as a situation that was “shooting themselves in the foot.” He ended up running the ball himself more in the second half in an effort to make something happen.
Out of 298 rushing yards, Brown ran for 109 of them and accounted for two touchdowns. One of which was a 42-yard run to put South Florida in the lead by one in the fourth quarter.
Interim coach Daniel Da Prato commended his preparation, especially since Saturday was only his second career start.
“He’s a stud,” Da Prato said. “His best days are way ahead of him … you all better be ready. He does an incredible job and I’m not surprised. He’s got a great future ahead of him.”
Boyles brings solid final performance
Earlier in the season, senior linebacker Dwayne Boyles said he wanted to finish his last season strong. In the last game of his college football career, he stood out regardless of an overall poor defense.
South Florida gave up 547 yards to Central Florida and 28 points in the first half. In spite of the loss, Boyles saved the game by recovering two fumbles and forcing another in the third quarter.
Boyles said hopes he is remembered as a player who never took a day for granted.
“Someone that gave his all every single day. Every single moment … every single workout … every single play,” he said. “Every moment I was at USF I gave it my all.”
Battie is just getting started
Sophomore running back Brian Battie led the offense with 144 rushing yards and snagged a 14-yard running touchdown in the third quarter that brought the score to 31-29.
In addition to aiding the Bulls in a close game, he finished the season with seven 100-yard rushing games, totaling 1,186 yards for the season. His completion tied him with former running backs Jordan Cronkrite and Marlon Mack, and former quarterback Quinton Flowers for consecutive 100-yard game records.
Da Prato said he is well on his way to continue breaking records being so young in the program.
“[Battie] had his fifth-straight 100-yard rushing game,” Da Prato said. “Next year, he’ll come back and tie the record on the first day of the year. He’ll have had six in a row and he will hold that record.”
Future of USF football is uncertain
Saturday’s game marked the end of rivalry games for the time ahead, and the end of an adverse season. However, it also marks the beginning of a new journey for the Bulls as they find themselves in a search for the missing puzzle piece to bring their football program to where they want it.
A close scoring game brought a glimmer of hope for not only the team, but the fans. It gave them a taste of a team the school has been yearning to have.
While Da Prato said he does not not know what his future with the Bulls looks like, he has high hopes for the trajectory of USF football.
“But what’s inside the locker room that nobody else sees, that’s what’s there,” Da Prato said. “And you saw a glimpse of that tonight. We’ve got an unbelievable nucleolus and character. Just the grit, resiliency and fight … We got backed into a corner [with] no chance but we found a way to give ourselves a chance. I see this program taking off and I see it happening very soon.”