'Unbelievable': Bonani FG gives USF wild win
TAMPA – In a game of huge momentum swings, in a duel of prolific passers who would combine for 700-plus yards, everything came down to a 19-year-old true freshman kicker playing in his first college game.
Maikon Bonani, told just two days earlier he would take over as USF’s kicker, calmly lined up for a 43-yard field goal with two seconds left and put it through the uprights, giving No. 19 USF a wild 37-34 victory over No. 13 Kansas before a crowd of 58,755 at Raymond James Stadium.
“Unbelievable,” said Bonani, who missed his first kick but then made his next three, all in his college debut. “It’s something I’ve never felt before. I’ve had kicks to tie games, but that’s it. … Honestly, man, I didn’t think about much. I just kicked the ball. Thank God it went in.”
Bonani’s kick came after USF’s defense got the turnover it had waited 59 minutes for, as safety Nate Allen intercepted a deep Todd Reesing pass and returned it 40 yards to the Kansas 27-yard line.
“It’s a good win. That’s an understatement,” coach Jim Leavitt said. “We beat a very, very good football team. For Maikon to come in and drill that kick … it’s something we really needed.”
USF (3-0) had trailed 20-3 in the second quarter, then took over, scoring the next 31 points, getting another big game from Matt Grothe, who finished with 338 yards and three total touchdowns. Up 34-20 with 10 minutes to play, the game seemed in hand, but for the second week in a row, the defense let a 14-point fourth-quarter lead disappear.
Reesing, who finished with 373 yards on 34-of-51 passing, threw touchdowns to Johnathan Wilson and Angus Quigley to tie the game with 5:32 remaining.
Delbert Alvarado, who lost the kicking job to Bonani on Wednesday, came through with a clutch punt, downed on the Kansas 7-yard line. Three plays later, Kansas had the ball on its 17 with less than a minute to play, and USF's coaches couldn’t believe they would try to win the game in regulation.
“I kept thinking, honestly, “Just make a mistake, make a mistake,” Leavitt said.
Reesing, who threw only seven interceptions in all of last season, floated a deep pass that Allen caught, then returned 40 yards down USF’s sideline. Leavitt ran one play to gain 1 yard, then sent his freshman kicker out to win a football game.
“I don’t like to change things,” Leavitt said. "But I knew it was the right thing to do. Maikon is a very good kicker."
The final flurry of points in the fourth quarter put so much in the background: running back Jamar Taylor rushed for 69 yards in the third quarter, including a 13-yard touchdown; receiver Taurus Johnson made a juggling catch on his back as he slid out the back of the end zone, initially ruled an incompletion but reversed on replay.
It’s USF’s fourth win in a row against ranked teams, following wins against Auburn and West Virginia last season. All thanks to a freshman kicker who only learned he'd be kicking field goals two days ago.
"He's a competitor," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said. "I think it's ingrained in him to be a competitor to go out there with ice in his veins, in that situation, a true freshman, to kick a 43-yard field goal with two seconds left."