It might have seemed to Bulls fans as if Texas Christian's defense was nonexistent in the closing minutes as USF rallied for a 45-44 double-overtime win Saturday.
Sophomore quarterback Pat Julmiste, who nearly doubled his career high with 324 passing yards and guided the Bulls to two touchdowns in the final four minutes of regulation, felt the same.
"I felt like I was in a zone, just like practice," Julmiste said Sunday morning. "I didn't see a defense out there. It was just me and my receivers and the offensive line out there. I've never felt like that out there before. I felt so relaxed."
Being stuck in Texas an extra day because of Hurricane Jeanne didn't seem as bad for the Bulls because they had pulled out an improbable victory in their Conference USA opener. Twice in the final four minutes, the Bulls scored tying touchdowns to set up their fourth double-overtime game in the past year.
As was the case in three conference games last year, the Bulls won in the second extra period. Having seen what happened to TCU on a botched extra point that cost the Horned Frogs the game, Bulls fans should get to know and appreciate Ryan Bordeau.
He's USF's backup long snapper, a sophomore from Seminole you probably haven't heard of, but a player who has dressed for all three games this season as the backup to starter Justin Daniel. His importance was underscored by the finish of Saturday's game.
TCU had lost its long snapper of two years, Clif Alexander, to a concussion in the Sept. 18 loss to Texas Tech, forcing the team to go with Andrew Calovich, who had never snapped the ball in a game.
His low snap might have affected Peter LoCoco's fourth-quarter field goal that was blocked by USF's Bruce Gipson, keying the Bulls' late rally. Another low snap doomed TCU on the second extra point of overtime, when holder Reeves Dalton tried to pick up the loose ball and attempt a two-point scramble, but he was brought down by Javan Camon and Mike Jenkins.
One last scare for the Bulls, on a night when they were penalized a school-record 18 times, was a flag thrown on the play. Had it been a penalty against USF, TCU could have attempted the kick again, but the flag was for an illegal forward pass against the Horned Frogs. USF politely declined the penalty, and the Bulls got a huge victory.
"When you win, everything is different," said coach Jim Leavitt, coordinating team meetings in an Arlington hotel on Sunday. "You're not as sore, you're not as tired."
So intense was the finish of Saturday's game that Leavitt stayed up almost the entire night, watching footage of the game, taking a break for a 4 a.m. walk, then returning for more video before catching an hour of sleep. He already is focused on Saturday's home game against Southern Miss, but his players enjoyed seeing him savor a hard-fought win Saturday night.
"The best celebration I had was when I saw Coach Leavitt dancing in the locker room," said junior Andre Hall, who matched a school record with four touchdowns and rushed for 119 yards in a breakout game. "I've never in my life seen anything like that. He made me feel so good about what I'd done, just to see him so happy."
Hall scored both touchdowns in overtime, but he praised the leadership of Julmiste, who helped the Bulls convert a school-record 14 third downs with his calm play and accurate passing.
"I've never seen Pat concentrate and throw the ball like he did last night. Pat picked it up last night and did a great job. And Joe Bain and S.J. Green," Hall said of the two who combined for seven catches for first downs, "I have to tip my hat to those guys."
The victory gives the Bulls (2-1, 1-0) a head of steam entering a showdown with Southern Miss, and Leavitt said he was pleased with the way his team kept its concentration during the game's tense final moments. Julmiste was so focused that when his left shoe came off during the fourth quarter, he kicked it aside and kept playing, not wanting to waste a timeout to pick up a shoe.
"I didn't want to come out of the game, so I flipped it off and played with no shoe on," said Julmiste, who comically used the shoe to form the base of the T when he called for a timeout a few plays later.
Julmiste called Saturday's win a "momentum builder," one that sets the standard for the rest of the season. But don't count Leavitt among those surprised by Julmiste's success under pressure against the Horned Frogs.
"Some people say he had an incredible game, but I think he had a game Pat should have," Leavitt said. "I think he has that kind of ability."