In the final minutes, fans keep RayJay rocking and South Florida rolling to 16 consecutive home victories.
By SCOTT PURKS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times, published October 13, 2002
TAMPA -- Ingredients for big-time conference football: Bands playing fight songs, a sea of school colors, cheerleaders cheering (and the crowd actually responding), fans on their feet screaming, and, of course, talent on the field.
It was all there Saturday for a Conference USA game at Raymond James Stadium, and it was all loud.
This was not South Florida at Oklahoma or Arkansas. This was USF beating Southern Mississippi 16-13 before 28,181 who stood for the final four minutes -- screaming.
"Our fans were louder than the fans at Oklahoma," said defensive back Kevin Verpaele after he and other players jumped from the stands where they had been hugging fans and vice versa.
"Our fans came in pumped up tonight, with spirit. I was just giving some of that love back to them that they showed to us."
Added defensive back Ron Hemingway: "This place was in a zone. You can feel it in here, and tonight, with this being a big Conference USA game, you could really feel it.
"I'm telling you right now, that feeling is here to stay."
And this after Southern Mississippi coach Jeff Bower said in 1999 of USF getting into C-USA: "I'd much rather concern ourselves not with quantity but with quality."
Bower didn't address that comment after the game Saturday, but said, "Well, we have to give them credit. They beat us, they whipped us in the fourth quarter. ... You have to give them credit. They are a good team."
Diplomacy appeared to be in order because next season South Florida plays its first full conference schedule of eight games. Four are at home, one of which could be against Southern Mississippi, which has the most wins in league history and is 33-9 in C-USA.
"We're ready for anybody now," defensive lineman Greg Walls said. "Two years ago, maybe we weren't ready (for the Golden Eagles, who beat the Bulls 41-7). But now I think we showed them we're more than ready.
"The difference is that we have confidence. ... We had confidence when we played Oklahoma. We prepared (for the Sooners) as if they were just another team. We don't put anybody on a pedestal because of what school they play for. ... We go in thinking we can beat anybody. That's the way you have to think."
South Florida's fans seem to believe.
The loudest cheers came after two plays: The first when receiver Hugh Smith took a reverse and rushed 7 yards for the winning touchdown with 9:31 left.
The second roar, and possibly the loudest, occurred when Southern Mississippi kicker Curt Jones missed a 44-yard field goal as time expired.
No doubt you could hear the chants down Dale Mabry Highway.
"USF! USF! USF! USF!"
In the middle of the field, South Florida players were screaming from a big scrum that this was, "Our house! Our house! Our house!"
The Bulls haven't lost in their house for 16 consecutive games.
Safe bet: C-USA opponents are thinking "Quality not quantity."