USF football came into Saturday night with their backs against the wall in numerous ways. The Bulls welcomed in the number 17 ranked Cincinnati Bearcats in a situation where they needed to win 2 out of their final 3 games to become bowl eligible. Charlie Strong’s future as head coach was also in jeopardy in the middle of a 2nd straight disappointing season. The Bulls came out like their backs were against the wall. The defense played their best half of the season and shut out the Bearcats in the 1st half. The lead was only 10 going into the locker room after 3 missed field goals. Cincinnati took advantage of those missed opportunities and were able to tie the game at 17 early in the final frame. Spencer Shrader had the chance to put USF back in front with just over 2 minutes remaining, but his 33-yard attempt bounced off the upright for his 4th miss of the game. Cincinnati was then able to drive down the field and connect on a game-winning field goal attempt of their own for a 20-17 victory. The Bearcats improved to 9-1 with the win and the Bulls fell to 4-6 with the loss.
The Bulls scored one touchdown all game against Temple. They matched that total on their 1st drive against Cincinnati. Randall St.Felix hauled in a 55-yard bomb from McCloud and that set up a 4-yard touchdown run from Trevon Sands. The Bulls had great position on their 2nd drive and started in Cincinnati territory. It looked like they had their 2nd touchdown of the game on a McCloud to Miller pass, but it was called off because of an offensive pass interference penalty. That call backed the Bulls up into a field goal attempt and it was no good from 50 yards out.
The Bulls 1st drive of the 2nd quarter also resulted in points. Spencer Shrader redeemed his earlier miss by connecting on a 28-yard field goal that gave the Bulls a 10 point lead. Shrader would miss another chance to extend the lead though. His 53-yard attempt was long enough, but it was pulled to the left. Cincinnati took over in good field position as they looked to cut into the lead before half. Kirk Livingstone would have none of that. The senior’s sack of Ridder on 3rd down was the 3rd of the ball game for the Bulls. The Bulls were able to get one more chance thanks to another big defensive play. Ridder went to take off on a run and fumbled. Kevin Kegler recovered at the Cincinnati 20-yard line with 37 seconds remaining in the half. Shrader got one more chance at redemption, but he missed again. This time he was wide right on a 43-yard attempt. The freshman was 1-4 on field goals in the half.
The Bulls started the 2nd half with the ball, but quickly went 3 and out and gave the Bearcats the ball in good field position. Cincy started near midfield and took the ball 56 yards in just over 3 minutes. Gerrid Doaks’ 1-yard touchdown run made it a 7 point game. USF answered right back with a 75-yard drive of their own. A big completion from McCloud to Kelley Joiner was the spark and they were able to finish the job when McCloud found Mitch Wilcox for a 4-yard touchdown pass. That TD made it a 17-7 game. The back and forth nature of the quarter continued on the next drive for Cincinnati. The Bearcats were able to advance into Bulls’ territory fairly quickly, but the USF defense was able to tighten up. Ridder’s 3rd down pass attempt was deflected and the Bearcats had to settle for a field.goal. Sam Crosa was good from 41 yards out to cut the lead to 7.
That 7 point lead became a 0 point lead early in the 4th quarter. Michael Warren’s 10th rushing touchdown of the season capped a 5-play, 65 yard drive and tied the game up at 17. A game changing play happened on the next USF possession. Kelley Joiner fumbled the ball on a carry that had advanced the Bulls into Cincinnati territory. Joiner looked very close to being down on the replay, but the refs upheld the call on the field to give the Bearcats the ball. With the aid of some penalties the Bulls avoided any damage and forced a punt. They were also forced to punt on their next drive, but that punt was partially blocked. The Bearcats started at the USF 46-yard line looking to take their 1st lead of the night, but the Bulls defense came through again. Mike Hampton did drop what looked like a pick 6, but the road team was still forced to punt it away. Shrader had one final chance at redemption after McCloud led an outstanding drive. He didn’t get that redemption when his 33-yard attempt bounced off of the right upright. Cincinnati then drove down the field and Sam Crosa hit a game-winning 37 yarder as time expired for the victory.
The home finale for the Bulls comes next Saturday night. USF will honor their seniors before kickoff against a ranked Memphis team. Kickoff time is not yet set, but you will hear it from start to finish right here on 95.3 WDAE and AM 620.