USF squanders double-digit second-half lead in 39-37 loss at Temple

Fumbles, critical penalties extend the Bulls' conference losing streak to nearly a year
USF's DeVontres Dukes tries to elude the grasp of a Temple defender during Saturday's 39-37 loss.
USF's DeVontres Dukes tries to elude the grasp of a Temple defender during Saturday's 39-37 loss. [ USF Athletics ]
Published Oct. 17, 2020|Updated Oct. 17, 2020

On a crisp Philadelphia afternoon when it delivered its most uplifting performance of the season, USF couldn’t quite deliver a watershed moment. But it sure beats the woodshed ones this program recently has endured.

What shaped up as the Bulls' first American Athletic Conference victory in nearly a year was thwarted by untimely turnovers and penalties, as Temple (1-1, 1-1 AAC) rallied from an 11-point second-half hole for a 39-37 victory at Lincoln Financial Field.

“This one hurts and it’s going to hurt,” said first-year coach Jeff Scott, whose program is winless in four contests in Philadelphia.

“We found a way to get (ahead) and unfortunately made some critical mistakes that you cannot make in that type of close ball game and expect to win.”

Plant High alumnus Leo Parker made it a two-point game with a 1-yard scoring run — his first carry of the contest — with 1:03 remaining, capping a 12-play, 72-yard drive. After a timeout, former Armwood standout Noah Johnson — the Bulls' de facto wildcat quarterback — was inserted for the two-point try.

After taking the snap, Johnson rolled left to the short side of the field, where he was swiftly bottled up. Temple recovered the ensuing onside kick.

“It’s a play that we’d had success with in the past,” Scott said. “Tried to do it a little different way, and it didn’t work. That’s on me as a coach.”

To that point, the Bulls (1-4, 1-3) at times appeared on the cusp of their first conference victory in 51 weeks, despite incessant self-infliction.

Brandishing some offensive balance rarely seen in the first four games, USF led 21-20 at halftime. The Bulls took a 28-20 lead when quarterback Jordan McCloud stepped up in a collapsing pocket and found 5-foot-5 dynamo Johnny Ford in the back of the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown.

It was McCloud’s third touchdown pass of the day and highlighted Ford’s career afternoon (206 all-purpose yards). Following Daquan Evans' 56-yard interception return, USF made it a two-possession game, 31-20, on Jared Sackett’s 29-yard field goal with 3:16 to play in the third quarter.

But McCloud also lost three fumbles, the last of which was scooped up by defensive end Arnold Ebiketie and returned for an easy 11-yard touchdown with 9:52 to play, giving the hosts a 32-31 lead.

It was the critical juncture in a 19-point Temple second-half run.

“It hurts because it goes back to just little things,” said McCloud, whose fumbles led to 10 Owls points. “Obviously there’s plays that all three phases left out on the field, including me. I can’t turn the ball over and things like that.”

Temple then made it an eight-point game with a 10-play touchdown drive, prolonged by a Bulls facemask penalty against defensive tackle Kevin Kegler on third-and-6. USF, which entered the game ranked 14th nationally with only 4.2 penalties per game, were flagged a season-high 11 times for 111 yards.

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“They all hurt, but this one definitely hurts because I really felt like for the first time in the last four games our guys came out playing to win the game,” Scott said.

“There’s not many 1-3 teams that would come out and play with the effort and intensity that our guys played with today. Unfortunately it just comes down to a couple of plays. We made some critical errors in all three areas of the game and you can’t win a game when you do that.”

“Hopefully this is a step in the right direction.”

Quick Takes

• Spencer Shrader’s squib kickoff, after the Bulls had taken a 31-20 lead late in the third period, wasn’t designed to be quite so short. Temple took over at its own 43 and scored in seven plays. “We really were supposed to be kicking it to the upback a little bit deeper,” said Scott, who called for a successful onside kick in the second quarter.

• Scott was diplomatic when asked about the targeting whistle against Antonio Grier, who was ejected after appearing to lead with his shoulder on a jarring hit on receiver Jadan Blue over the middle. “Those (officials) obviously, they know exactly what they’re looking for,” he said. “They go back and take time and replay it and they said it was targeting.”

• For the first time this season, USF’s diminutive backfield tandem of Ford and Kelley Joiner Jr. did some damage up the middle, a dimension the Bulls desperately need. The pair combined for 121 yards on 26 carries.