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Shout from mountaintop

USF posts biggest win in school history, knocking off No. 7 West Virginia on the road.

By GREG AUMAN
Published November 26, 2006


MORGANTOWN, W.Va. - As he gathered his players in the team hotel Friday night, USF coach Jim Leavitt had a message to remember during Saturday's game at No. 7 West Virginia: Don't be surprised if you have the lead in the fourth quarter.

So the rest of college football and all but a few hundred of the 52,790 in attendance might have been shocked by Saturday's 24-19 upset by the Bulls, 211/2-point underdogs who stifled a dominant running attack to stun the defending Big East champions on their home field.

But Leavitt wasn't. That's not to say he wasn't moved by a defining win in the history of his young program.

"It's pretty powerful," said Leavitt, soaking wet and overcome with emotion at midfield after the game. "It's a big win, a great win for our team, for our program. ... This probably is the biggest, because you won here and it's so hard to win here. It's so hard to beat these guys anywhere."

There was so much not to be surprised about Saturday:

- A West Virginia running game averaging 330 yards a game, one that saw Pat White and Steve Slaton each rush for more than 200 yards against Pittsburgh nine days earlier, was stuffed, with those two combining for a season-low 60 yards on 33 carries.

- The Big East's best red-zone offense, with 33 touchdowns in 43 trips inside opponents' 20-yard line, made four trips inside USF's 12-yard line and came away with a total of six points.

- West Virginia's home dominance, with eight straight wins at Milan Puskar Stadium, scoring at least 40 points in all of them, came to an end, against a Bulls team that had lost its last three Big East road games.

West Virginia (9-2, 4-2) is ranked two spots higher than Louisville was when USF (8-4, 4-3) upset the Cardinals 45-14 in Tampa last season. Add in the location, and it's hard to argue where this win ranks in the Bulls' record books.

"It's the biggest win in school history as far as I know," said quarterback Matt Grothe, who went 22-for-30 for 279 yards, passing for one score and running for another. "You beat the No. 7 team in the nation at their place, in probably the loudest environment I've ever been in. It's awesome. This is the best feeling in the world."

USF, which is likely to receive an invitation to the Papajohns.com Bowl on Dec. 23 in Birmingham, Ala., got on the scoreboard with its first defensive touchdown of the year. Chris Robinson forced a White fumble that George Selvie took 9 yards for a 7-6 lead.

The Bulls twice stopped West Virginia inside the USF 5-yard line, first on a fake field goal on the opening drive. The bigger stop came in the third quarter, when the Mountaineers marched to the USF 2, gave it to Slaton, then saw him popped by safety Danny Verpaele, losing a fumble inside the 1-yard line.

So many things made the upset possible, like a 14-play, 77-yard drive that ate up 6:47 of the fourth quarter, ending with Delbert Alvarado's 18-yard field goal. When West Virginia struck for a 44-yard touchdown to pull within five points with 5:16 to play and USF went three-and-out on offense, punter Justin Teachey came up with a career-best 61-yard punt to back West Virginia up to its 24.

And finally, as the Mountaineers tried to mount a final drive, White's pass for Brandon Myles - who had already scored two touchdowns - bounced through his hands to USF cornerback Trae Williams, who made his seventh interception, tying J.R. Reed's school record.

"It was an easy one to catch, but it was like the hardest one to catch," Williams said. "I was like 'Please, just don't drop it, just don't drop it.' "

Given an early lead against one of college football's most dangerous offenses, the Bulls didn't drop it Saturday. And while he wasn't surprised, Leavitt respected his opponent plenty. Asked how he contained West Virginia's speed, he cited divine intervention.

"I'm not sure," Leavitt said. "I know we prayed before the game to give our linebackers wings like eagles. We really did, because I knew that's what it would take."