TAMPA — Jake Sims never had scored a touchdown, at any level, in his football career. So you can imagine the excitement when USF's senior tackle saw a loose ball in the end zone after RB Mo Plancher fumbled.
Sims jumped on the ball to give the Bulls a 28-27 lead with 9:33 left.
"It's been in my dreams for a while. It's still pretty surreal," Sims, the first offensive lineman to score a touchdown in USF history, said after Wednesday's victory against Rutgers. "I was in the right place at the right time. I see a fumble. I've got to get on top of it. I'm not giving that ball up for anything."
Sims wasn't the only unlikely player to make a big play in the end zone for the Bulls.
Their rally started late in the third quarter when junior DT Keith McCaskill tackled Rutgers RB Kordell Young for a safety, cutting the Scarlet Knights' lead to 24-22.
"This is my first ever, so this is the most exciting thing in my life," McCaskill said. "It was great momentum for us.
"It seemed like it was a momentum boost for the offense, too. They did their job, drained the clock down just enough for us to pull this victory off."
Bowl watch: With a Wednesday night audience all to itself, USF used the Rutgers game as its annual invitation to bowl representatives, 11 blazer-clad officials meeting with local leaders and Bulls administrators.
Representatives from the four BCS games — Rose, Sugar, Fiesta and Orange — were in attendance as well as both local bowls, the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl of St. Petersburg and Outback Bowl of Tampa.
Representatives from all Big East-affiliated bowls — Champs Sports Bowl in Orlando, Car Care Bowl in Charlotte, N.C., Birmingham (Ala.) Bowl and Liberty Bowl in Memphis — also were there to look at two teams that came in with four wins. (Teams need six wins to become bowl-eligible).
The Pinstripe Bowl representative didn't need a tour around Tampa. It was former Yankees star and USF baseball volunteer assistant Tino Martinez, who was on the sideline with Bulls baseball coach and brother-in-law Lelo Prado before the game. The new bowl, played at Yankee Stadium, will be Dec. 30 between teams from the Big East and Big 12.
PAYING TRIBUTE: USF players wore a red "52" decal on the backs of their helmets in tribute to Rutgers DT Eric LeGrand, who injured his neck while making a tackle on a kickoff Oct. 16 against Army and is paralyzed from the neck down. Two USF senior captains — CB Mistral Raymond and C Sampson Genus — delivered recorded messages to LeGrand on the video screens at Raymond James Stadium.
GOING STRONG: Sophomore Maikon Bonani continued his consistent kicking, connecting on a 48-yard field goal, his longest of the season and 1 yard short of his career high set in 2008. Bonani added a 20-yard field goal in the third quarter to improve to 8-for-9 on the season since taking over for senior Eric Schwartz.
Homecoming: Rutgers freshman WR Jeremy Deering, a graduate of Leto High, lined up several times in the wildcat formation, including a 15-yard run to the 1 — it was called a touchdown then overturned on instant replay — that set up a touchdown for a 24-17 lead in the third quarter. He led Rutgers with 69 rushing yards on nine attempts.
Greg Auman can be reached at email@example.com.