BY ERIC BAILEY
Special to the Times
TULSA, Okla. — USF players — just moments after an improbable 25-24 victory over Tulsa — sang Lean on Me so loud it echoed through the bowels of Chapman Stadium.
The old-school ballad was appropriate. In a football game that saw the Bulls seemingly running in place much of Friday night, the offense, defense and special teams worked as one to capture a game sealed by Coby Weiss' 22-yard field goal with two seconds remaining in regulation.
"After the game, that song was on and it clicked for us," USF running back Jordan Cronkrite said. "It was a bonding, special moment for us.
"We leaned on each other at the end of the game and kept each other in the game."
The No. 23 Bulls (6-0 overall, 2-0 in American Athletic Conference) scored 15 points in the game's final seven minutes, 10 seconds to stay unscathed this season.
Weiss said he made a winning field goal four years ago — against another team with the Hurricane nickname — and was focused on the short 22-yard attempt. Just two possessions earlier, Weiss had a PAT attempt blocked. It didn't stick with him as he drove a dagger through the Hurricane's upset hopes.
"I was just ready to go kick it," said Weiss, who is now 6-of-8 on attempts. "I mentally do reps of kicking game-winners in my head so I was just ready to do it."
Things looked bleak entering the fourth quarter.
Tulsa (1-5, 0-3) held a 24-10 lead and momentum through the first three quarters. The home team looked like the nationally ranked squad, while USF players assured coach Charlie Strong that everything would be okay.
"I'm sitting there and they are yelling, 'We got you, Coach, we're going to win this game' and I'm looking at the clocking thinking, 'We better hurry up if we're going to win it,'" said a chuckling Strong, who has led USF to its second straight 6-0 start.
After managing just two scoring drives in their first 11 possessions, the Bulls went touchdown-touchdown-field goal to sink the Golden Hurricane's upset hopes.
"We talk about it each and every week," Strong said. "Just how resilient these guys are and how they continue to battle back. They never think they've going to lose a game."
The Bulls held Tulsa to zero yards of total offense in the fourth quarter. Each three-and-out provided energy to the offense, which was guided by quarterback Blake Barnett.
Barnett led an offensive attack that produced 214 yards in the fourth quarter, including a pair of touchdown runs by the quarterback.
The comeback began with a 14-play drive topped by Barnett's 1-yard touchdown run. At a time when panic could understandably creep in, the Bulls showed poise during the game's longest drive (five minutes, 41 yards).
Weiss' extra-point attempt was blocked, making it 24-16 with 7:10 on the clock.
After another defensive stop, the Bulls took aim at the Tulsa defense again. Barnett had two huge conversions by scrambling on third-and-9 and third-and-10 to move the chains. The big play was Barnett's 31-yard pass to Darnell Salomon to move the ball to the TU 14. Two plays later, Barnett scurried 12 yards to make it 24-22.
Barnett's run attempt on the ensuing two-point conversion failed to keep the Bulls behind TU.
Instead of trying an onside kick, Strong trusted his defense and they came through with another three-and-out.
USF, with no timeouts, took over with 1:03 left in regulation.
Barnett's 15-yard throw to Mitch Wilcox on third-and-10 moved the ball to the Tulsa 42. After a holding penalty gave USF first-and-20 at its own 48, Tulsa was flagged for roughing-the-passer to move the ball to the Hurricane 37. Two plays later, Barnett hit Tyre McCants with a 32-yard throw to the Tulsa 5 with eight seconds left and set up McCants' heroics.
"The two-minute drill is something that we do on a regular basis," Barnett said. "We have gone over literally that exact (one-minute, 10 seconds), zero-timeout scenario in practice and it paid off."
The Golden Hurricane entered the contest with a four-game losing streak and only possessed a come-from-behind victory against FCS opponent Central Arkansas.
Early, the USF defense couldn't get stops against a Tulsa offense with an anemic passing attack. Redshirt freshman quarterback Seth Boomer — making only his second start — was only 6-of-21 passing for 79 yards.
The Hurricane used its ground game to take control, finishing with 220 yards. But it couldn't move the ball when it counted most.
Barnett finished 17-of-39 passing for 237 yards and also added 24 rushing yards and two touchdowns.
Cronkrite rushed for 151 yards on 25 carries, including a 66-yard touchdown run on the third play of the third quarter. It's his fourth touchdown of at least 66 yards this season.
"It's great we were able to pull this game out for a national audience and a lot of people got the chance to see us," Strong said.