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Jordan Cronkrite and USF keep churning

Martin Fennelly: The senior running back has his second straight big game to help lift the Bulls.
USF running back Jordan Cronkrite (2) dives over BYU defensive back Tavita Gagnier (34) for the first down during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium.
USF running back Jordan Cronkrite (2) dives over BYU defensive back Tavita Gagnier (34) for the first down during the second half of the game at Raymond James Stadium. [ OCTAVIO JONES | Times ]
Published Oct. 13, 2019|Updated Oct. 13, 2019

TAMPA — Sometimes winning comes down to something as simple as refusing to stop.

Sometimes you just have to bull your way past seemingly certain defeat.

That’s exactly what was running through USF senior Jordan Cronkrite’s mind when he was handed the ball in the third quarter, 1 yard from the end zone. He appeared to be stopped, to have no chance, just like his team.

But Cronkrite’s head, heart and legs did not receive the memo. His legs kept churning and churning.

“Honestly, just trust your technique and fundamentals,” Cronkrite said. “Once you do that, it’s your God-given abilities and you go from there.”

Throw in a helpful push in the back from USF offensive lineman Donovan Jennings.

“Hats off to him,” Cronkrite said.

Whatever it took. Cronkrite scored. He bulled his way in from a yard out. The most important yard of the 158 he gained Saturday afternoon at Raymond James Stadium. He was back. And so was USF. The Bulls pulled to within 16-14 and pulled some more after that.

“We just kept battling,” USF coach Charlie Strong said.

This was a very nice 27-23 win over favored BYU. Never mind that it came down to the BYU punter muffing a snap, or an injury to Jaren Hall, the first African-American to ever start at quarterback at BYU, leaving it in the hands of another redshirt freshman at the end. Never mind that USF still had to hold on for dear life. The Bulls are owners of a two-game win streak and are 3-3 heading to Navy next week,

They refused to lose Saturday. They would not be stopped.

And the same goes for Cronkrite.

In a game his team needed, it needed him more. He responded with those 158 yards on 26 carries and two touchdowns, including the winner in the fourth quarter, which he helped set up with an explosive 41-yard run, Cronkrite’s longest of the game. It also easily surpassed his rushing totals across his first four games: 6, 16, 21, 30.

Maybe it’s not how you start …

“We knew he would be there,” Strong said.

Last week’s 148 yards in the win at hapless UConn were no accident. Cronkrite has put up back-to-back big days, and it helped turn this one around.

USF trailed 13-0 in the second quarter. The Bulls were down 16-7 at halftime. They were behind 23-14 after three quarters, but found a way. From 3-3, you can almost see six wins and bowl eligibility, of all things. A big win, no way around it.

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“The difference is we just really kept our heads in it,” Cronkrite said.

He was a star on the rise last season, a transfer from Florida who was one of the biggest reasons USF broke off to a 7-0 start. He finished with 1,121 yards and nine touchdowns.

It wasn’t nearly as easy this time around. The well ran dry to start the season. For a lot of reasons. Hey, you run the ball when you’re down 7,000 to Wisconsin in the opener. It wasn’t just that.

“It was a team effort,” Cronkrite said. “I could have done better, the offensive line could have done better, the coaches could have done better.”

But beginning with the UConn game, Strong and beleaguered USF offensive coordinator Kerwin Bell went back to the run game and stuck with it. And it has produced, with 243 yards Saturday, Trevon Sands going for 63. It all helped mightily as USF quarterback Jordan McCloud played through a shoulder injury. And it will matter if USF is to rally the rest of the way.

You have to start somewhere.

Saturday, it started with 1 yard, 3 feet, not to mention the two belonging to Jordan Cronkrite. They never stopped moving. They refused to stop, and to lose, as it turned out.

Contact Martin Fennelly at mfennelly@tampabay.com or (813) 731-8029. Follow @mjfennelly

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