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Bulls keep their home streak alive

There's something about Raymond James Stadium, where the Bulls have won 18 in a row.

By KEITH NIEBUHR, Times Staff Writer

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 10, 2002

There's something about Raymond James Stadium, where the Bulls have won 18 in a row.

TAMPA -- South Florida wide receiver Huey Whittaker thinks the Bulls have a special relationship with Raymond James Stadium.

"There's a chemistry," Whittaker said. "Ray-Jay has been very good to us."

And vice versa.

Since losing the Hofstra on Nov. 13, 1999, USF has won 18 in a row at home, tying the Bulls with Texas for the second-longest active streak in college football behind Miami's 20. USF's latest home triumph, a down-to-the-wire 31-28 win against Memphis on Saturday, came before a homecoming crowd of 32,770, the largest to see a Bulls game at Raymond James Stadium.

"It was real loud," USF defensive tackle Greg Walls said.

Especially at the end.

As Memphis attempted to mount a winning drive in the final minute, most fans stood. And when Memphis quarterback Danny Wimprine was intercepted by J.R. Reed on the final play, the place erupted.

"We've got this thing," Walls said. "We don't like to lose at home. I'm pretty sure that one time when Memphis was down there in the end-zone area, they couldn't hear anything. It's good to be at home with the fans behind you."

After the game, USF players celebrated at midfield, and several moved toward the stands. Players high-fived fans and received congratulations.

"We like to show our support, let them know we appreciate them," Bulls wide receiver Hugh Smith said.

The Bulls' streak began Sept. 2, 2000, with a 40-0 win against Jacksonville State. The list of victims also includes lightweights Austin Peay, Charleston Southern, James Madison, Liberty and Southern Utah. But as the sixth-year program has grown, so has the strength of schedule.

This fall, the Bulls have home wins against Northern Illinois (which defeated previously unbeaten Bowling Green on Saturday), Southern Mississippi, and now Memphis. USF has won 11 games by 20 or more points during the streak.

Southern Miss and Memphis came closest to handing USF a home loss. The Bulls beat Southern Miss 16-13 in October and the Tigers trailed 28-7 at the half Saturday before rallying to within three.

"I am exhausted," Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said. "As I said all week, Memphis is a dangerous football team."

Leavitt said he hasn't given the streak much thought. But the players admit it's on their minds.

"We made it close, but a win is a win," said Bulls quarterback Marquel Blackwell, who is 23-1 at home as a starter. "The crowd did a real good job. I don't know if there is a mystique, but I hope it continues. We've got one more this year."

And it could be a tough one.

Bowling Green, USF's opponent this week, has been ranked much of the season and has one of the nation's highest-scoring offenses.

"That's going to be a good team," Smith said.

USF has at least one thing in its favor: homefield advantage.

Bulls players hope to keep winning here so someday Raymond James Stadium is spoken in the same breath as the Big House, the Orange Bowl and the Swamp.

"Coach Leavitt always says if you don't want to be the best in the country at something, why be here," Whittaker said.

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