Seniors led USF to 28-27 win over Rutgers
TAMPA – For the second game in a row, USF's seniors faced the prospect of ending their careers without beating one of their Big East rivals, and just as they did at Cincinnati, the Bulls took down a conference nemesis, beating Rutgers in a 28-27 thriller at Raymond James Stadium on Wednesday night.
"We always say in order to be a good football team, our seniors have to play the best football of their career," USF coach Skip Holtz said after the program's 100th all-time win. "Mo Plancher did that tonight. Jacquian Williams on defense did that tonight. There were some upperclassmen that I just felt led the charge tonight."
USF (5-3, 2-2 in Big East) saw Plancher rush for a career-best 135 yards, with the winning score coming when another senior, tackle Jake Sims, recovered his fumble from the 1-yard line in the end zone in the fourth quarter.
And when USF's defense needed a stop with Rutgers (4-4, 1-2) in Bulls territory on fourth down, Williams was the linebacker who blitzed and sacked Scarlet Knights quarterback Chas Dodd, sealing a milestone win for the resurgent Bulls.
"I started realizing what I'm playing for," said Williams, a Riverview graduate who had a game-high 11 tackles. "I'm playing for (fellow seniors) Sampson (Genus), Skinny (Raymond), Sabbath (Joseph), Mo. I'm playing for them. I get teared up thinking about those guys."
Three weeks ago, USF was 0-2 in the Big East, having failed to score an offensive touchdown in the two losses. They've not only bounced back, but did so against two teams who had each beaten them four years in a row.
"This is a special group of seniors, a group I will be endeared to for a long time," Holtz said. "Just because of the attitude they've had. It would have been easy to throw in the towel at 0-2, but they've rallied back."
The Bulls got two touchdowns on third-and-goal from quarterback B.J. Daniels, and they also got considerable luck -- Sims' wasn't the only fumble recovery deep in Rutgers territory, as receiver Evan Landi landed on another Plancher fumble on the 7-yard line, setting up an earlier touchdown. A muffed punt return in the fourth quarter was pounced on by Bulls corner Kayvon Webster.
"I guess you could say luck was on our side. We got a few breaks, but it was very hard-earned," senior center Sampson Genus said.
USF’s defense -- which held Rutgers to 238 total yards -- allowed just 96 yards in the second half, saving its biggest stops for the end. USF's offense moved the chains until 36 seconds remained, and Rutgers' last drive ended at its 36, to the delight of an announced crowd of 39,465.
USF’s defense took the momentum late in the third quarter, when linebacker DeDe Lattimore had a sack, then a tackle for loss deep in Rutgers territory, backing the Knights up to a third-and-21 from their 4. On the next play, defensive tackle Keith McCaskill tackled Kordell Young in the end zone for a safety, cutting the lead to 24-22.
But on the ensuing drive, Daniels was intercepted by Justin Francis – the game’s first turnover – to set Rutgers up on the USF 42. The defense held the Scarlet Knights to a 30-yard field goal and a 27-22 lead, staying within a touchdown with 12 minutes remaining and setting up Sims' winning score.
Wednesday was the Bulls' 100th win, but it was just the fifth one-point win in USF history, and the first since Florida International in 2006. That's something else the Bulls' seniors hadn't accomplished before Wednesday's win.
"We're not going to give up, no matter what," Daniels said.