The second of only two home losses ends the class' hopes of playing in a bowl game.
By ROB BRANNON
Published November 23, 2003
TAMPA - It's never supposed to end in a loss.
But there they were, South Florida's 14 seniors. Many lingered just that extra moment after the game, their final at Raymond James Stadium. Their final memory was one they had felt just once before.
This was the class that had not lost at home until October. They went 23-2 at home, but it's the two, especially the last, that hurt.
"I don't know how to lose. It's something I can't get used to," senior safety Kevin Verpaele said.
The loss was about more than the damage done to a legacy of winning at home. The loss cost these seniors their only shot at a bowl game.
"This is probably it for me," Verpaele said. "I've got one game left after 19 years of football."
The Oct. 4 loss seemed different. The Bulls came within three points of upsetting TCU. Saturday, however, got away.
There were the 16 penalties, one shy of a school record. There were holdings that stopped the offense and the personal fouls that ushered UAB toward the end zone. There were the six turnovers. And there was a missed field goal.
"We thought we had the edge ... at home and our last game," senior running back Vince Brewer said. "It just takes your breath away."
Safety J.R. Reed played one of his best games. He made 16 tackles, and his interception gave the Bulls a shot at a winning drive. He also gained nearly a football field on the kick returns.
Senior Courtney Davenport made 12 tackles and seniors Maurice Jones and Verpaele 11. Those four led the team.
On offense, it was Huey Whittaker pulling down four catches for 64 yards. Brewer gained 59 yards on 11 carries. He scored both touchdowns and the tying two-point conversion. Together with a redshirt freshman quarterback, they nearly brought the Bulls back.
"I feel bad for the seniors more than anything else," coach Jim Leavitt. "That's the biggest disappointment."
Maybe the biggest disappointment for the senior defensive leadership was watching UAB drive for the winning field goal. The defense failed when it was needed.
This class was the bridge. It started during transition season from Division I-AA to I-A and finished as a contender in Conference USA. It went two years with six losses. But in the end, Brewer said, the two home losses of 2003 are the most disappointing.
"(Winning at home) has always been a tradition here," Brewer said. "It's hard to handle right now."