Deja vu: Teggart, UConn nip Bulls, 19-16
TAMPA -- It was painfully familiar for USF football, the way things went down against Connecticut for the second year in a row.
Another late rally for the Bulls, and the excitement of that quickly spoiled by a last-minute collapse -- same kicker, same result, same empty feeling as Dave Teggart, who hit a game-winner as time expired in last year's finale, kicked a 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds left to give the Huskies a 19-16 win, a Big East championship and a first-ever trip to a BCS bowl.
"This one hurts," said Bulls coach Skip Holtz, who saw his team erase a 10-point deficit as true freshman quarterback Bobby Eveld rallied the Bulls with a touchdown pass and a 74-yard drive for a game-tying field goal with 1:16 left. "Just wanting to send these seniors out the right way, for the foundation they've laid and everything they've done for this program. It hurts to lose a game like this, especially as hard-fought as it was."
Connecticut (8-4, 5-2) wins the tiebreaker with West Virginia and Pittsburgh to earn a Big East championship and will represent the league in either the Fiesta or Orange. USF (7-5, 3-4) is expected to get a bid today from the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, where they'll likely face Clemson from the ACC.
USF's defense did enough to win, holding UConn to 232 total yards and limiting the league's top rusher, Jordan Todman, to 93 yards on 33 carries. The defense forced a Todman fumble in the fourth quarter, setting up Eveld's 28-yard touchdown pass to receiver Dontavia Bogan, but the momentum wasn't enough to send the Bulls seniors out with a victory.
"I didn't feel like we were going to lose -- there's always going to be a turning point in a football game, and that was our turning point," said linebacker Sam Barrington, who recovered the fumble forced by end Craig Marshall. "I wish we could have held it, wish we could have scored, stopped them from scoring, but we didn't. We can't do anything but praise UConn."
Eveld, who overcame three interceptions, had USF on the UConn 5-yard line for first and goal with less than two minutes to play. But after a 1-yard run on first down, the Bulls attempted two passes to Bogan, stopping the clock twice with incompletions that gave UConn time to get 25 yards to get within range for Teggart's fourth field goal of the night. Holtz put that decision on him, wishing he'd opted to run the clock down instead.
"I look at myself first. I'd love to go back and redo the final two minutes," Holtz said. "It's one-on-one coverage, they're loading the box, let's give Bogan a chance to make a play. He's made so many for us this year. In hindsight, putting that on a freshman, I should have run the ball, even if we didn't gain any yards. I should have run the ball and (eaten) up the clock and not given them an opportunity to go back down and kick the field goal. ... In a one-play game like this, you beat yourself up."
In all four conference losses, the Bulls gave up 20 points or less -- Saturday's game was the third straight in which the offense mustered exactly three first-half points. Eveld, making his first career start after taking over for an injured B.J. Daniels last week, threw 41 passes, five more than the Bulls had totaled in any game this season. He threw for 195 yards, including 105 in the fourth quarter, but wished he could have done more for the seniors on the team.
"I did a poor job taking care of the football tonight," Eveld said. "Even after the picks, people kept coming up to me, telling me you're still in this thing, we still need you. The team and coaches having my back like that, it really did a lot for my confidence, despite the bad times."
After the tying field goal, UConn took the kickoff to the 40-yard line, then Zach Frazer found Kashif Moore for 18 yards to the 42, then 7 yards to Michael Smith to the 35. After two plays, Teggart lined up for the 52-yarder and just barely cleared the uprights.
For the third week in a row, USF had little offense to show for the first half, getting exactly three points for the third straight game. The Bulls drove to the 19-yard line on the opening drive, but a block-in-the-back penalty forced USF to settle for a 43-yard Maikon Bonani field goal. UConn answered with a 40-yard Dave Teggart field goal to tie the game after two possessions.
Neither offense could muster a score the rest of the half -- USF's defense got a huge stop with 1:22 left in the half when Jon Lejiste intercepted a pass at the USF 7 and returned it to the 49. The Bulls squandered that momentum in a big way, as Eveld's pass on the next play was deflected at the line and returned 55 yards by linebacker Lawrence Wilson for a touchdown and 10-3 halftime lead.
USF's red-zone offense had them settling for field goals in all three trips inside the UConn 20. The Bulls' defense held the Huskies to field goals on its two trips, but Teggart -- who entered the game 2-for-6 beyond 40 yards -- hit kicks of 50 and 52 yards to clinch the conference title.
The Bulls had much in play -- had they won, they were potentially headed west to the Sun Bowl in El Paso. or potentially even all the way to San Diego for the Holiday Bowl had the Pac-10 not filled its last available bowl slot. Instead, the Bulls are expected to return to Charlotte for the Meineke Car Care Bowl, where they played their first bowl against N.C. State in 2005, losing 14-0. A formal announcement is expected today, with Clemson the most likely opponent from the ACC.