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Fifty years ago, they were screwed-up kids sent to the Florida School for Boys to be straightened out. But now they are screwed-up men, scarred by the whippings they endured. Read the story and see a video and portrait gallery.
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Win ranks right up there
USF just misses its first Top 25 ranking, though the poll snub is not likely to dampen the euphoria of a milestone win at Auburn that is Matt Grothe's "all-time favorite.''
By GREG AUMAN, Times Staff Writer
Published September 10, 2007
AUBURN, Ala. - There were still 11 minutes left of USF quarterback Matt Grothe's 21st birthday when the ball left his hands in overtime and found receiver Jessie Hester for a touchdown, giving the Bulls a 26-23 overtime victory Saturday at No. 17 Auburn.
That, folks, is how you blow out the candles.
"This is probably my all-time favorite win, just because it's on my birthday," he said. "I can't ask for a better birthday present than that. Beating Auburn? How many people in the world know Auburn? We just beat that school."
The question now is how many people in the world know USF? The Bulls just missed being ranked in the Top 25 for the first time, winding up No. 26 in the writers' poll and No. 27 in the coaches' poll.
"I don't think the coaches' poll gives a rat's (expletive) about us and I don't think we will be ranked," Grothe said after Saturday's win. "I think a win (against North Carolina on Sept. 22 after this bye week) will have to definitely solidify us in the Top 25."
Grothe's touchdown gave USF the win, but it was made possible by a swarming defense that held Auburn to three points in the second half, forcing five turnovers.
The Bulls (2-0) converted those turnovers into zero points, thanks largely to four missed field goals by Delbert Alvarado, who still got the chance to kick a tying field goal with 55 seconds left, sending the game to overtime.
"If Delbert misses it, we pick him up," center Jake Griffin said. "I told him on the sideline, 'Hey, forget the last one. You're going to have another.' He could have missed 10 kicks, but he hit the one that mattered, and we won as a team."
They won in a stadium where Auburn had won 14 straight games, before 82,617 fans, the second-largest crowd ever to see a Bulls football game.
"I don't know on some of the audibles how the rest of the offense heard the play," Grothe said, "because I could barely hear myself."
It was a different kind of loud after the game, as a tiny corner of green and gold fans lingered, chanting "U-S-F" as the marching band played on.
"That's just love," said running back Mike Ford, who scored his fourth touchdown in two games and rushed for 74 yards. "For the people that traveled this far, that's nothing but love. We didn't have a big crowd, but that was big enough."
USF had never come close to beating a Southeastern Conference team in four previous meetings, losing by an average of 28 points. It's only the team's second road win against a ranked opponent, but it rates among the best, even for players who weren't celebrating a birthday.
"It's the best feeling in the world," center Jake Griffin said. "It's better than Louisville (in 2004) 'cause we did it in their house. I can't even explain it right now."
Excitement from Saturday's win will carry through to the home game against North Carolina and the Big East opener, at home on Sept. 28 against West Virginia. About 40,000 tickets have been sold in the lower deck at Raymond James Stadium, raising the possibility that USF could draw 50,000 at home for the first time.
The Bulls won't be hurting for confidence after Saturday.
"That's the team that beat the national champions (Florida) last year," offensive coordinator Greg Gregory said of Auburn.
USF learned about its ability to overcome adversity in a hostile environment.
"Perseverance is a very powerful word," coach Jim Leavitt said. "We always talk about finishing and fighting to the end. I thought it would come down to the end if we played the kind of game we needed to play."