TAMPA — In a game of huge momentum swings, in a duel of prolific passers who combined for 700-plus yards, everything came down to a 19-year-old 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 on Friday before a crowd of 58,755 at Raymond James Stadium.
"Unbelievable," said Bonani, who missed his first field goal, a 41-yarder, in the second quarter but made his next three. "It's something I've never felt before. I've had kicks to tie games, but that's it. 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.
"It's a good win. That's an understatement," Bulls 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) trailed 20-3 in the second quarter then took over, scoring the next 31 points. It got another all-around effort from quarterback Matt Grothe, who finished with 338 yards and three touchdowns (two passing and one running).
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 score with 5:32 remaining.
Delbert Alvarado, who lost the kicking job to Bonani on Wednesday, came through with a clutch punt, downed at the Kansas 7. Three plays later, Kansas (2-1) had the ball on its 17 with less than a minute to play.
USF's coaches said afterward they couldn't believe the Jayhawks would try to win the game in regulation.
"I kept thinking … 'Just make a mistake, make a mistake,' " Leavitt said.
Reesing, who threw only seven interceptions last season, floated a deep pass that Allen caught and returned 40 yards down USF's sideline. USF ran one play, a 1-yard run by Jamar Taylor, then sent the freshman kicker out to win the 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.
Taylor rushed for 69 yards in the third quarter, including a 13-yard touchdown. Taurus Johnson made a juggling catch on his back as he slid out of the back of the end zone, initially ruled an incompletion but reversed on replay. Grothe finished 6-for-6 in the fourth quarter, including a 37-yard touchdown to A.J. Love for a 34-20 lead.
The final minutes had a familiar sequence of collapse and redemption for the Bulls. Just a week ago, USF led Central Florida 24-10 with four minutes to play only to allow two quick touchdowns. Alvarado missed a kick with 11 seconds left. But USF won in overtime as Grothe and Johnson connected on a 25-yard touchdown and the defense made one last stop.
It's USF's fourth win in a row against ranked teams, following those against Auburn and West Virginia last season and West Virginia in 2006. All thanks to a freshman kicker who might have been headed for a redshirt until two days ago.
"He's a competitor," defensive coordinator Wally Burnham said of the Lake Wales High graduate. "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."
Florida State vs. Chattanooga
3:45, Doak Campbell Stadium, Tallahassee
Records: FSU 1-0, Chattanooga 1-1
TV/radio: ESPNU; 1470-AM
Weather: 90 degrees, 20 percent chance of rain