In a thrilling comeback victory that included four lead changes in the fourth quarter, the USF Bulls (10-2) beat the Texas Tech Raiders 38-34, capturing their second straight Birmingham Bowl on Saturday. Quarterback Quinton Flowers led the Bulls to four second half touchdown drives.
Texas Tech (6-7) took the opening possession of the game. And after a few completions by Quarterback Nic Shimonek, mixed in with runs from Running Back Justin Stockton, the Red Raiders were in the redzone. But on a third & three from the Bulls eight yard line, Shimonek threw an incomplete pass, forcing the Red Raiders to settle for a 26 yard field goal by Kicker Clayton Hatfield. The Red Raiders scoring drive covered 12 plays for 67 yards.
The Bulls first possession started with a couple of runs by Flowers then Flowers hit Running Back D'Ernest Johnson for a 25 yard pass play, pushing USF into the red zone. But unable to get into the endzone, USF settled for a 25 yard field goal by Kicker Emilio Nadelman to tie the game at 3. And like the Red Raiders opening drive, the Bulls scoring drive was lengthy, 11 plays for 58 yards.
Both teams had the ball before Texas Tech put the first touchdown on the scoreboard. It took another double digit drive, this one 10 plays for 81 yards. The key plays on the drive were third down conversions by the Red Raiders. The first one was Shimonek hitting Wide Receiver Keke Coutee with a 20 yard third down conversion. The second conversion was a two yard run by Running Back Tre King on third and one. And the passing combination of Shimonek & Coutee hooked up again for a five yard touchdown pass, giving the Red Raiders a 10-3 lead.
After exchanging of possession into the second quarter, Texas Tech got the ball with just over 9 minutes left in the second quarter. And just like the first drive of the game, the Red Raiders were driving off the arm of Shimonek. That is until on a third & seven Bulls Safety Jaymon Thomas picked off Shimonek in the endzone & returned it 18 yards, keeping the USF deficit at seven.
The Bulls could only string together one first down after the interception by Thomas, but after giving the ball back to Texas Tech, the Bulls got a break when Red Raiders Punter Dominic Panazzolo shanked a punt 15 yards. And the Bulls took advantage to tie the game at 10 when Flowers hit Wide Receiver Tyre McCants with a 21 yard touchdown pass with a little more than a minute to play in the half.
The half ended with the score tied at 10, but the Red Raiders outgained the Bulls 246-131, had three redzone trips plus the ball for nearly 19 of the 30 first half minutes, but Shimonek threw two crucial first half interceptions.
The Bulls started the second half with the ball but after a first half of playing turnover free, a fumble by Flowers set up the Red Raiders to get into the redzone again. And this time, Texas Tech grabbed the 17-10 lead when Shimonek completed a three yard touchdown pass to Wide Receiver Dylan Cantrell.
On the next drive, after an illegal block on the kickoff, USF started on its own 9 yard line but less than three minutes later, the Bulls capped a 91 yard touchdown to tie the score at 17 when Flowers hit Wide Receiver Darnell Salomon for a 17 yard touchdown pass.
After the Bulls touchdown, the Red Raiders went three & out but on the Bulls next possession, the Red Raiders went looking to create turnovers & they did just that when McCants was stripped by Defensive End Kolin Hill to put Texas Tech in position to take another seven point lead. And with the help of Running Backs Stockton & King, ending with King running it in from four yards out for a 24-17 Texas Tech lead.
The teams traded possessions again as the game reached near the end of the third quarter. And the game entered the fourth quarter with the Bulls taking the ball from their own 10 & taking it all the way to the Red Raiders one yard. But on a fourth & goal from the one, Running Back D'Ernest was stopped before the goal line.
After the goal line stand, Texas Tech couldn't do anything offensively & was forced to punt. And even though the Bulls were pushed back because of personal foul penalty after a Flowers run that gave USF a first down, the Bulls got a completion from Flowers to McCants for 18 yards. Then on second down from the Texas Tech five yard line, Flowers ran it in making this game tied at 24.
With 9:30 minutes left in the fourth quarter, the Red Raiders were looking to rebound after the Bulls tied the score for the fourth time in the game. And the Red Raiders did just that when they put together a 60 yard drive that ended with Hatfield hitting from 33 yards away & giving Texas Tech a three point lead. But after a special team gaffe by the Red Raiders when they kicked the ensuing kickoff out of bounds, the Bulls went to work quickly & on second down & nine, Flowers found Wide Receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling wide open, who made the catch, sprinted into the end zone for a 64 yard touchdown & giving the Bulls their first lead of the game 31-27.
Trailing for the first time in the game, Texas Tech started on their own 15 yard line, but needed just under three minutes to grab the lead back when Shimonek scrambled, bought time then found Wide Receiver T.J. Vasher wide open in the back of the endzone for a 25 yard touchdown pass, putting the Red Raiders up, again 34-31.
The Bulls started the next drive on their own 25, needed a field goal to tie. But after two runs by Flowers along with two completions, the Bulls were in Texas Tech territory with exactly one minute left in the game. And after a couple of incompletion by Flowers followed by another run by Flowers, the senior quarterback, who had 354 yards in the second half alone, hit McCants for the game-winning 26 yard touchdown pass, with less than 30 seconds left in the game.
Flowers, who came into the game owning 25 school records, finished the game with 311 passing yards, four passing touchdowns, plus 14 carries with 106 rushing yards & one rushing touchdown. Meanwhile the win gives Flowers 31 wins as the school's starting quarterback & gives the Bulls 10 wins this year, which means the program has back to back double digit win seasons for the first time in school history.