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USF Topples Kansas - No Bull

by Dave Congrove
September 13, 2008

TAMPA (CFP) -- The last time I covered a USF game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, the Bulls came of age with a nationally televised win over West Virginia that propelled the young program to the No. 2 spot in the initial BCS Standings of 2007.

Friday night, USF was presented with the opportunity to move further up the college football food chain when it hosted the defending Orange Bowl champion Kansas Jayhawks, ranked No. 7 in the CCR Top 120. Less than a week removed from an overtime victory over UCF, you could argue that the Bulls needed to win to justify their own Top 20 ranking in the major polls, and No. 11 spot in the CCR Top 120.

In front of a near sellout crowd of 58,755, USF accomplished that task when freshman kicker Maikon Bonani converted a 43-yard field goal as time expired for a dramatic 37-34 victory.

Head coach Jim Leavitt inserted Bonani into the starting role just this week, knowing that one of the biggest games in his coaching career was on the immediate horizon. What was he thinking?

"I don't like making changes like that. I really don't", Leavitt said in the postgame news conference. "But I knew it was the right thing to do."

The winning kick was the exclamation point on a football game that was a roller coaster ride of momentum.

Kansas opened a 10-0 lead in the first quarter with a touchdown and field goal on its first two possessions.

To that point, USF's best chance to score came when Bonani got his first crack at a field goal early in the second quarter. USF was already trailing 10-0, and his 41-yard attempt was poorly struck and missed wide left. Bonani proved he was a quick learner when he connected from 34 yards out on the Bull's next possession, but the Jayhawks were unfazed and their offense was unstoppable as Kansas immediately answered that field goal. Kansas then stretched the lead to 20-3 on quarterback Todd Reesing's 3-yard keeper around left end with 3:24 left in the half.

The Bulls took some wind out of the visitors' sails when Matt Grothe dazzled the crowd with an electrifying 28-yard touchdown run on the ensuing drive. The score provided a glimmer of hope for the home team heading into the locker room at halftime.

The third quarter could not have been more different than the first half. After USF kicked off, Kansas went three-and-out and the Bulls embarked on a 13-play, 76-yard drive that culminated with a 23-yard field goal by Bonani. It was only three points, but the momentum change was in full swing. That momentum would not be broken until USF had scored 31 unanswered points over a period of 18 minutes and 15 seconds stretching from late in the second quarter to early in the fourth. The Bulls were suddenly so dominating that the only first down Kansas gained during that span was achieved via a pass interference penalty.

USF tied the game at 20-apiece on its next possession when Grothe connected with Taurus Johnson on a 21-yard pass that required replay to over-rule an initial incompletion call. Johnson bobbled the catch but corralled it just before he slid out of the end zone on his backside. That drive took only 9 plays to cover 66 yards.

Barely more than 3 minutes went by before the Bulls took the lead on running back Jamar Taylor's 13-yard run to end a 5-play, 71-yard drive. USF made it 34-20 just 2:10 later on Grothe's 37-yard pass to A.J. Love that capped a 2-play, 36-yard drive to begin the 4th quarter.

Just like that, the Bulls had stormed back from a 20-3 deficit to a 34-20 lead. In the process, each drive was easier. Grothe wryly admitted he sensed the kill. "I can tell when the defense is getting worn down."

However, just when the green and gold-clad fans could taste victory, 'old momentum' turned and gave them indigestion instead.

Behind a scrambling Reesing, Kansas rediscovered its offense and closed the gap to 34-27 when he found Jonathan Wilson for an 18-yard score. A 3-and-out by the Bulls put Reesing and Company back in business and, with 5:40 still to play, the nimble junior threw a 14-yard strike to tailback Angus Quigley to knot the score at 34.

The following Bulls' drive managed one first down before stalling at the Kansas 42 with 2:04 left. Delbert Alvarado's punt pinned Kansas back at its' 7 -yard line and the partisan USF crowd was crossing its fingers for a second consecutive overtime game.

Methodically, though, Reesing began driving his Jayhawks up the field. A first-down at the 18 was soon followed by a gain to the Kansas 40, and the clock still showed 41 seconds remaining. On 1st-and-10, Reesing dropped back and threw deep into USF territory, but safety Nate Allen broke in front of the receiver for the only interception of the ball game by either team.

The pick-off and 40-yard return put USF on the right hash of the Kansas 27 with 30 seconds left. Leavitt used one play to put the ball in the middle of the field. "I thought about moving it a couple of more yards", Leavitt said after the game. Instead, he let the clock wind down to 2 seconds before sending out Bonani for his magical moment.

As for Bonani, he mastered the interview as well as the kick. When I asked him how it felt to make his first big game-winning field goal, he quickly quipped, "Better than the first miss."