Bulls Get 11th Win in Birmingham Bowl OT Thriller
BIRMINGHAM, Ala., DEC. 29, 2016 – Big-time performances on both sides of the ball propelled No. 22/25 USF to its record-setting 11th win of the season in overtime at the Birmingham Bowl.
Quinton Flowers started overtime with a scrambling, 25-yard touchdown pass to Elkanah Dillon and the USF defense finished by posting its season-best fifth takeaway in a 46-39 triumph over South Carolina. In the Bulls’ first bowl win since 2010, the USF defense registered three takeaways inside the red zone at historic Legion Field.
USF (11-2) added to its program record season wins total while increasing its nation-leading streak of 30-plus point games to 17 with a Birmingham Bowl record 46 points. Flowers earned game MVP honors by matching his career high with three touchdown runs, also a bowl record, and accounting for five total touchdowns and 366 total yards, his record ninth 300-plus total yard game of the year. The junior from Miami rushed for a game-high 105 yards, matching Marlon Mack with a USF record five straight 100-yard games, and completed 23 of 32 passes for 261 yards and two touchdowns.
South Carolina (6-7) scored 18 unanswered points to tie the game in regulation before USF’s defense made the biggest play of the game. With the Gamecocks looking at fourth-and-6 at the USF 8 in overtime, junior defensive end Mike Love (Clearwater) sacked Jake Bentley and Khalid McGee (Miami) sealed the win with his second fumble recovery of the game.
USF improved to 10-1 all-time in overtime games, 2-0 in bowl games, as they played their first since a 2011 overtime loss at Rutgers.
McGee’s first fumble recovery at the Bulls’ 1 preserved the 39-31 lead with 4:19 remaining in the game. Junior safety Tajee Fullwood (Tampa) caused the fumble and also had a big 47-yard interception return for a touchdown in the third quarter that gave the Bulls a 39-21 lead.
Devin Abraham (Tarpon Springs) made his first interception of the season in the first quarter and sophomore safety Jaymon Thomas (Immokalee) recovered a fumble at the USF 2 in the third quarter. USF totaled 11 takeaways in the final three games of the season to finish with 26 on the year.
USF improved to 5-3 in bowl games as it began its eighth postseason appearance making big plays in two phases of the game.
D’Ernest Johnson (Immokalee) returned the opening kickoff 46 yards and the Gulf Coast Offense got the ball back after a 21-yard interception return by Abraham. Johnson set new career highs with six catches for 95 yards and a touchdown.
Seven plays after Abraham’s pick, Flowers extended his program season rushing touchdown record to 16 with a 4-yard scoring run up the middle. Backup QB Brett Kean’s surprise two-point conversion completion to all-conference tight end Mitchell Wilcox (Tarpon Springs) gave USF an 8-0 advantage less than five minutes into the action.
Flowers did more damage with his feet on USF’s third drive, scrambling around traffic on another 4-yard touchdown run. Flowers set up the scoring drive with a 24-yard run and gained 46 yards on his first eight carries.
South Carolina turned a takeaway into seven points early in the second quarter and USF answered with Flowers’ third TD run of the day, which tied his previous career record and gave him a USF season record 18 on the year. Flowers’ 1-yard scoring run helped spot the Bulls a 22-7 lead three plays after he completed a 22-yard pass to Johnson on fourth-and-5 at the Gamecocks’ 42.
As USF faced a fourth-and-3 at the South Carolina 37, Flowers went for it all and found Johnson again for a touchdown pass that helped pump USF’s lead up to 29-14 with seven seconds left in the half. Flowers accounted for 278 total yards and was responsible for four touchdowns in the opening half.
South Carolina scored a touchdown on the opening drive of the second half and USF responded with Brandon Behr’s 21-yard field goal. Playing in place of injured Emilio Nadelman, Behr’s third field goal as a Bull extended USF’s 30-point streak to 17 games.
Following Behr’s kick, USF tacked on six more points with Fullwood’s 47-yard interception return with 7:06 remaining in the third quarter. Fullwood’s second interception of the season marked USF’s second pick-6 of the year, following Johnny Ward’s at Cincinnati on Oct. 1, and USF’s third defensive touchdown of the year.
South Carolina answered with 10 straight points, cutting the USF lead to 39-31, before the Bulls’ defense forced another turnover inside its own 5. South Carolina drove down to the USF 2, when Fullwood forced a fumble that McGee recovered in front of the goal line with 4:19 remaining.
Another wild fourth quarter for the Bulls continued when South Carolina tied the score at 39-39 with 1:11 remaining. The Gamecocks pushed their unanswered point total up to 18 with a two-point conversion catch by Hayden Hurst.
USF started overtime with Flowers’ 25-yard touchdown pass to Dillon (Ocala) in the back of the end zone on the first play. School history was made when Love’s fourth-down sack secured USF’s first bowl win since 2010.
Interim head coach T.J. Weist on USF getting its 11th win:
“Our guys really came through in the end, especially our defense. We’re unbelievably proud of every guy, just how we finished and ended up with 11 wins. It’s just unbelievable.”
Interim head coach T.J. Weist on the team staying focused this postseason:
“I can’t be more proud of these guys. I just want to get in that locker room and hug them, and love them up. We started Charlie off right, Coach Strong.”
Interim head coach T.J. Weist on closing the game out on both sides of the ball:
“It’s not how we wanted the game to go, but it was the finish we were looking for and it’s really what counts.”
Linebacker Auggie Sanchez on the defense stepping up against an SEC team:
“I think we came out with energy. I think we kind of felt like there was a little disrespect for us. We were the team coming in here with 10 wins and they were the SEC team. They kept asking us, ‘How can you guys keep up with the SEC?’ so on and so forth… The biggest stop of the year was defensively and that won us this bowl game. That’s a good way to go out.”
Linebacker Auggie Sanchez on the defense’s last stand in OT:
“We played our man coverage. I got the guys on the sideline before the play and I said, ‘Be grateful one play and we’ll win this ballgame. That’s exactly what we did. Mike Love made a huge play and that was what we were stressing on the sideline. That’s what we were able to accomplish.”
5 – USF’s defense racked up five takeaways, with two interceptions and three fumble recoveries inside the red zone. USF’s defense posted 11 takeaways in the past three games (six interceptions).
5 – Game MVP Quinton Flowers accounted for five total touchdown. Flowers matched his career high with three TD runs and his second scoring pass made the difference in overtime.
15 – USF scored a total of 15 points off a pair of South Carolina interceptions, including a pick-6 by Tajee Fullwood.
18 – South Carolina scored 18 unanswered points to force overtime.
- USF extended the program’s season wins record to 11. The Bulls headed into the Birmingham Bowl as a 10-win team for the first time in school history.
- USF improved its all-time postseason record to 5-3 with its first bowl victory since defeating Clemson, 31-26, in the 2010 Meineke Car Care Bowl.
- USF extended its nation-leading streak to 17 games with at least 30 points.
- USF improved to 10-1 all-time in overtime games and 2-0 in overtime bowl games.
- Game MVP Quinton Flowers accounted for five total touchdowns and matched his career high with three scoring runs, a Birmingham Bowl record. Flowers finished the season with a USF record 18 rushing touchdowns.
- Flowers finished off the top rushing season in USF history with 1,530 yards after gaining 105 against the Gamecocks. It marked his fifth straight 100-yard game, which tied Marlon Mack’s school record.
- Quinton Flowers totaled more than 300 total yards (366) for the ninth time this season, another USF record. Flowers finished the season with a USF record 4,337 total yards and accounted for a USF season record 42 touchdowns.
- Senior WR Rodney Adams set the program’s new season receptions record with 67, passing Hugh Smith (62, 2002) on the list. Adams came into the game needing three catches to break the record and finished with seven receptions for 67 yards. Adams tied his program record with 822 receiving yards this season, a feat he also accomplished in 2015.
The USF Football program is in its 20th season overall and 17th at the FBS level. The Bulls have made seven bowl appearances, including every season between 2005-10, and have four bowl game victories. USF has produced 14 All-America selections, 25 NFL Draft picks and reached the No. 2 ranking in the Associated Press Poll in 2007.
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