MIAMI — USF climbed another rung on the ladder of state success Saturday, notching a 23-20 overtime victory over Miami at Sun Life Stadium.
The Bulls (7-4) did it with a freshman walk-on quarterback, a backup running back and a former walk-on receiver playing key roles against the five-time national champion Hurricanes (7-5).
"It's a wonderful feeling. This is a milestone for this program," said senior linebacker Sabbath Joseph, savoring the win in his hometown. "I'm so tired of hearing about South Florida being a mediocre school that can't play with the Big Three of Florida, Florida State and Miami. If you want to be labeled the Big Four, you've got to beat them. That's exactly what we came here to do."
And as was the case with their win against FSU last season in Tallahassee, the Bulls sent a message. USF led 10-0 in the third quarter, only to see Miami rattle off 17 consecutive points. But Bobby Eveld, playing quarterback in place of injured B.J. Daniels, finished an 81-yard drive with a 1-yard touchdown run with 2:00 remaining.
Miami got in field-goal range in the closing seconds, but safety Jerrell Young, a Gibbs graduate, intercepted Jacory Harris' pass with five seconds left. Then the defense held Miami to a field goal in overtime, and two backups — running back Demetris Murray and former walk-on receiver Joel Miller — made plays to set up Murray's winning 1-yard run.
The Bulls had to wait a moment to celebrate as the final play was reviewed, but the call — and USF's higher status in the state hierarchy — was upheld, allowing a corner of green to celebrate a hard-fought win in what was coach Randy Shannon's final game at Miami (the Associated Press reported he was fired Saturday night).
"We grew up a little bit today as a program," USF coach Skip Holtz said. "This is the level that we aspire to be at. This is what we want to do. We have talked about the Big Three in the state. … They have all won conference championships; they have all won national championships. This is the level we want to compete at."
In the past month, USF has forged an identity by grinding out close wins — they've had three wins of three points or fewer in November, as many as they totaled in the previous five seasons since joining the Big East in 2005. A month ago, they'd gone three years without a fourth-quarter comeback, and now they've rallied from final-period deficits in their past three wins.
"I'm a senior. I've got a few games left. I didn't want to have any regrets after this game. I had to get open and make a big play," said receiver Dontavia Bogan, who made catches of 27 and 21 yards on the final drive of regulation.
After USF took a 10-0 lead in the third quarter on an 8-yard touchdown run by Murray, Harris, who had replaced freshman Stephen Morris, helped Miami score 17 consecutive points.
Trailing by seven with 4:56 to play, USF went 81 yards and Eveld, of Jesuit High, finished the drive with a keeper. Young's interception came when Miami was already at the USF 32, in position for what looked to be a winning field goal.
"There isn't a bigger play in the game … that would have been heartbreaking if they got close enough to put it away in regulation," Bedford said. "It gave us a chance. We did what we did (in an OT win Nov. 13) up at Louisville. We got it done. I'm just in awe right now."
Murray's clinching touchdown improved the Bulls to 9-0 all-time in overtime, but he said it felt best for the seniors to have one more memory.
"It felt great to let the seniors out with a bang down here in Miami," Murray said. "You hear about the Big Three all the time and everybody looks down on South Florida. All we try to do is come in and win and show people this is a big program and we can compete with anyone."