The USF Bulls are now a 3rd of the way through their 2018 campaign and they certainly are becoming all too familiar with close contests. USF scored 4th quarter comeback victories over the past 2 weeks over power 5 opponents, Georgia Tech and Illinois. On Saturday night they began their American Athletic Conference schedule against East Carolina. To no one’s surprise they found themselves locked in a tight game again. The teams entered the 4th quarter locked at 13. That experience in close games proved valuable for the Bulls once again. They got the big plays they needed on offense and defense. Jordan Cronkrite gave his team the lead with an electrifying 80-yard touchdown run and Mazzi Wilkins came up with a huge pass deflection on 4th down that ended a promising ECU drive. In the end, USF walked away with a 20-13 victory. The Bulls now stand at 4-0 overall and are off to a 1-0 start in conference play.
USF won the toss and deferred. East Carolina’s opening drive was a bit methodical until they reached midfield. Reid Herring connected with Trevon Brown on a 47-yard pitch and catch to give the Pirates a 1st and goal. Backup QB, Holton Ahlers ran it in on the very next play to give his team the early lead. USF went 3-and-out on their 1st drive, but they had much more success on their 2nd turn with the football. The Bulls marched down the field in less than 4 minutes and put up 6 thanks to Blake Barnett’s 2 yard touchdown run. The ensuing extra point was blocked to keep the Pirates in the lead.
The Bulls got burnt on the next drive by a bogus pass interference call, but the defense was able to recover and get off the field without allowing ECU to extend the lead. The next drive for USF didn’t take long. Barnett found a WIDE open Darnell Salomon streaking down the sideline for an easy looking 66-yard touchdown. That bomb put USF on top for the first time in the ball game. East Carolina got another gift pass interference call on their final drive of the 1st half that gave them a chance to put up 6 instead of having to settle for a field goal attempt. Josh Black came up with a huge sack though to force ECU to use their last timeout with 3 seconds remaining. They added on a 28-yard field goal as time expired in the quarter to make it a 3 point game heading into the locker room.
The Bulls committed their 1st big mistake very early in the 3rd quarter. Deangelo Antoine fumbled on the 2nd play of the half and the Pirates were able to recover. East Carolina was able to take advantage of that turnover and turn it into points. Jake Verity’s 24-yard field goal knotted the game at 13 early in the 3rd.The rest of the 3rd quarter was a defensive battle where the teams traded punts. The most promising drive was the final one of the frame for USF. They had drove it into the edge of field goal range, but Barnett was sacked for a loss of 10 yards on the final play of the quarter and the Bulls were forced to punt yet again.
Another costly penalty bit the Bulls again early in the 4th. The defense looked to have forced the Pirates into a 3-and-out to start the frame, but they were called for a roughing the punter penalty to give ECU a 2nd life. Herring drove his team into USF territory, but the Bulls bent, but didn’t break and forced another punt. USF started the drive at their own 5-yard line, but that didn’t deter the 4th quarter Bulls. Jordan Cronkrite came up with the biggest play of the game up to that point. The running back took it right up the gut and wasn’t even touched on his 80-yard sprint to the endzone. ECU answered well on the following drive, taking it into Bulls’ territory once again. The defense had played well all game, but hadn’t had the signature big play. Mazzi Wilkins changed that. He dove in front of an ECU receiver at the last second on 4th down to force get his offense the ball back with a chance to ice the game. The offense couldn’t do that. They found themselves in a manageable 3rd down situation, but Barnett had no time to throw and was sacked for the 6th time in the ballgame. That gave the Pirates the ball back with just over 5 minutes to play down by a touchdown. They couldn’t muster anything there, but they still got one more chance at a miracle drive with 2 minutes remaining. Nick Roberts would have none of that. The redshirt freshman intercepted Herring on the 1st play of the drive to end all hopes of a Pirates comeback.
The Bulls have a bye week next week before beginning a 2-game road trip. Their next contest comes at UMass on October 6th before they head to Tulsa to face the Golden Hurricanes in a Friday night showdown. The next home game will be October 20th against UConn.