ORLANDO — With the national spotlight shining on him late in the fourth quarter, USF quarterback Mike White was making perhaps the most memorable start of his young college career Friday night.
After struggling early, the Fort Lauderdale native shook off the cobwebs in the second half and seemed poised to put the Bulls, who were 27-point underdogs, in position for one of their biggest wins in program history against No. 17 UCF.
With time winding down and his team trailing late in the fourth quarter, White had completed 15 of 33 passes for 211 yards — the freshman's best performance since his debut as a starter, Oct. 31 at Houston.
However, pass attempt No. 34 proved most costly — an interception that secured a 23-20 win for the Knights, their first in five tries against USF.
"He played well, enough for us to win," USF coach Willie Taggart said of White.
"He didn't play a perfect ball game. He still made some mistakes in the game, which he's going to do."
Starting from their 14-yard line, the Bulls needed to get past midfield and into field goal range to tie the score. After driving to the UCF 39, White looked prepared to earn his first victory as a starter.
But it wasn't meant to be.
On third and 6 with less than a minute to play, White threw a strike to his left toward a hustling Chris Dunkley that would have given the Bulls a first down. But UCF defensive back Jordan Ozerities was lurking. The sophomore stepped in front of the pass for the interception and returned it 37 yards.
With just one timeout left for USF, the game was over.
Earlier in the third quarter, White led USF downfield to take a late lead. After starting on his 23 with 3:51 to play, White avoided the UCF defense to find former Jefferson High standout Andre Davis for a gain of 20 yards.
Then, two plays later, White threw a strike to receiver Ruben Gonzalez for 18. But his best was yet to come.
On third down from the UCF 33, White completed a 31-yard bullet to tight end Sean Price, which gave the Bulls first and goal from the 2-yard line.
From there, Bulls running back Marcus Shaw scored to give the Bulls a 20-16 lead.