USF 24, N. TEXAS 17: Two touchdowns in the fourth quarter are enough for the Bulls.
By PETE YOUNG, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 6, 2002
DENTON, Texas -- For South Florida this season, the fourth quarter has been a time for celebrating impending victory or wallowing in inevitable defeat, a time for the first string to watch while the backups got some work.
Saturday at North Texas, for the first time in five games, the fourth quarter wasn't an unnecessary exercise. It was a high-drama showdown in the waning moments, and the Bulls, despite another epidemic of penalties, were the cooler team under pressure, pulling out a dicey 24-17 win.
"It came down to the fourth quarter and the defense stood up," USF safety J.R. Reed said.
The dominating defense allowed 198 yards and forced four of its five turnovers in the fourth quarter, offsetting another cascade of Bulls penalties, 17 for 137 yards.
"There were a million (penalties and mistakes), and I know it, and there's no excuse for it," said USF coach Jim Leavitt, whose team committed 15 penalties last week at Oklahoma. "The guys battled and played their tails off. To go in here on the turf against the Sun Belt (Conference) champions after two tough losses, to win the ballgame in the fashion we did, which was not pretty, shows the potential of this program is pretty strong."
USF (3-2) outgained North Texas (1-5) 432-198 but had to sweat it out right to the final minute, when D'Juan Brown's interception sealed the win.
"They couldn't compete with us, but again it was mental mistakes," USF defensive end Chris Daley said. "We've got to (learn to) keep our composure. It's frustrating when one person, or a team, can't keep their discipline."
With the game tied at 10 entering the fourth quarter, USF quarterback Marquel Blackwell (29 of 47, 271 yards, 2 touchdowns, 1 interception) connected with Chris Iskra for a 44-yard score on the opening drive of the quarter, breaking a tie at 10.
Kevin Verpaele intercepted a pass on the next possession and the Bulls drove 16 yards for the sudden two-touchdown lead, 24-10, on a 2-yard leap over the pile by Quinton Callum.
The extra score came in handy, as two 15-yard personal foul penalties against USF abetted a North Texas touchdown drive that cut it to 24-17 in the middle of the fourth quarter.
The defense took care of things from there. USF's Kawika Mitchell recovered a fumble with five minutes to go and Verpaele had an interception on a tipped pass with 3:46 remaining.
North Texas got the ball back again and with the crowd of 15,512 cheering them on, the Mean Green got to midfield on a 35-yard completion. However, a long throw toward the goal line was intercepted by Brown, who had been burned on the 35-yard completion.
"I knew somebody would make a big play," Daley said. "He's young, he's a freshman, and that's a great ego-booster."
USF's statistical domination was offset by the penalties and a long kickoff return and a long interception return. Those plays set up a North Texas touchdown and field goal, keeping things testy.
The Bulls, who had lost their past two games by a combined 73-17 after winning their first two by a combined 88-16, won for just the fourth time in their past 17 roads games.
Leavitt has praised his stable of running backs since the beginning of the preseason, and Saturday they finally showcased their skills. The pass-dominant Bulls, whose running game had been tepid all season, established the ground game from the outset and took some of the pressure off of Blackwell.
The Bulls entered Saturday averaging 82.5 rushing yards a game, near the bottom of the 117 Division I-A schools. They had 161 on 44 carries Saturday.
Callum (12 carries, 41 yards) and Vince Brewer (12-50), making their first starts of the season, shared the rushing load with Clenton Crossley (8-51), and the Bulls also called Blackwell's number several times.
The Bulls opened the game with perhaps their most impressive drive of the season, going 85 yards in 12 plays (including seven rushes for 42 yards) without needing a third-down conversion for a 7-0 lead.
Daley recovered a fumble at the North Texas 23 in the second quarter, setting up a Santiago Gramatica 21-yard field goal to make it 10-0.
The Bulls blunted the North Texas offense throughout the first half, holding the Mean Green to 59 yards before intermission. Penalties continued to bog down USF, though. A late second-quarter USF sack was nullified by an offsides infraction, giving North Texas first-and-5 at the USF 11, setting up a Kevin Galbreath touchdown run to make it 10-7 at halftime.
Nick Bazaldua's 38-yard field goal in the third quarter, following Blackwell's lone interception, tied it at 10. It remained 10-10 entering the fourth quarter even though USF had pushed its total yardage advantage to 304-84.