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, then the excitement of that quickly spoiled by a last-minute collapse — same kicker, same result, same empty feeling.
Dave Teggart, who hit a winner as time expired in last year's finale, kicked a 52-yard field goal with 17 seconds left Saturday 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 freshman quarterback Bobby Eveld rallied the Bulls with a touchdown pass and a 74-yard drive for a 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) won the tiebreaker with West Virginia and Pittsburgh to earn a Big East championship and will represent the league in either the Fiesta or Orange bowls.
USF (7-5, 3-4) is expected to get a bid today from the Meineke Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., where they'll likely face Clemson from the ACC.
USF's defense did enough to win, holding UConn to 232 yards and limiting the league's top rusher, Jordan Todman, to 93 on 33 carries. The defense forced a Todman fumble in the fourth quarter, setting up Eveld's 28-yard touchdown 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 turned out to be crucial since it gave UConn time to get 25 yards to get within range for Teggart's fourth field goal of the game.
Holtz put that decision on himself, 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 ate 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 fewer — 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 he wished he could have done more for the seniors on the team.
"I did a poor job taking care of the football tonight," said Eveld, who had a pass returned 55 yards for a touchdown by linebacker Lawrence Wilson just before halftime. "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, which just barely cleared the uprights.
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.