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Fourth quarter charge

USF gets its first road win this season, 21-13 over Connecticut.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published October 29, 2000


photo
[AP photo]
USF lineman Anthony McKenzie gives Marquel Blackwell a lift after Blackwell's first-half touchdown.
STORRS, Conn. -- Thirteen times in South Florida's brief football history, the Bulls had trailed at the end of the third quarter.

And 13 times, they had come up empty.

So when Connecticut's Geoff Heyl hit a 34-yard field to give the Huskies a 13-7 lead with 1:09 left in the third quarter Saturday, history wasn't on South Florida's side.

Add a new chapter to the history book.

With USF trailing by six with 10:06 left in the game, Otis Dixon scored on a 1-yard run to give South Florida a 14-13 lead, then the Bulls added another late touchdown to earn a 21-13 win over Connecticut in front of 16,585 at Memorial Stadium, the second-largest crowd in Connecticut football history. It was USF's first road win of the season. More than three quarters had elapsed before Dixon got his hands on the ball. When he did, he made sure the first carry counted.

"Every time we get inside that 10-yard-line, that's my territory," Dixon said. "Rafael (Williams) did a good job getting us down there, then that's my job to put it in the end zone. ... That's what I've been running all year, and it's my job to capitalize and help this team win."

The Bulls players said they were confident they were still in the game, particularly because they had 25-mph winds behind them in the fourth quarter.

"We knew we would have out backs to the wind in the fourth," center Joey Sipp said. "We knew all we had to do was dig in and go for it."

The Huskies stalled on their next possession after Dixon's score when the Bulls' defense jammed the line of scrimmage and kept UConn quarterback Luke Richmond from gaining the yard needed for a first down on fourth and 1 at the Huskies' 41 with 7:03 left.

Senior defensive back Anthony Henry said the play of the defense late in the game overshadowed what he considered a "disappointing" performance in the first three quarters. The Bulls (5-3) gave up just 115 net rushing yards, but 180 through the air. "Our defense didn't play like the way we're capable of playing," said Henry, who had five unassisted tackles. "We have a real good run defense and we didn't play that today so we kind of put ourselves in a hole and it put our offense in a bad situation. I've got to applaud the offense for coming out there and sticking with us and winning the fourth quarter for us. The times we were down they still stuck in there and pulled it out for us."

After the big defensive stop, USF took over and drove 41 yards in seven plays, culminating in a 9-yard touchdown pass from Marquel Blackwell to Scott McCready with 2:48 left.

"They had been playing off of us on the outside," said McCready, who had five catches for 53 yards. "The whole idea behind that play is to let everything clear out and let things open up underneath. Fortunately for us it did, and luckily for me I was the one on the other end of the pass."

UConn (3-5) took a 3-0 lead with 2:58 left in the first quarter on a 47-yard field goal by Heyl.

On South Florida's next possession, Blackwell scored on a 7-yard touchdown run to cap a 10-play, 72-yard drive and take a 7-3 lead with 9:30 left in the second quarter.

UConn seemed poised to regain the lead and momentum at halftime, but misfortune struck. With second-and-12 on USF's 36 yard line and 26 seconds left in the half, starting quarterback Ryan Tracey sustained a severe left knee injury and left the game. The drive ended with an incomplete pass by backup Richmond as the half expired.

"At halftime we thought we would be okay," Connecticut coach Randy Edsall said. "Anytime you lose someone who has had the kind of year Ryan has had for us (1,961 yards before Saturday) ... it does hurt you a little bit."

But the Huskies rallied behind Richmond. Richmond engineered a 79-yard drive that ended with a 6-yard touchdown run by Evan Benson to give UConn a 10-7 lead with six minutes left in the third quarter. When Williams fumbled with 3:07 left in the quarter, UConn got its final score, a 34-yard field goal by Heyl with 1:09 left in the quarter.

Despite strong blitzing from the Huskies, Blackwell finished 19-of-28 for 165 yards and one touchdown and was the team's leading rusher with 92 yards on 16 carries. Williams had 69 yards on 22 carries.

"I think that was very important, getting a win on the road," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "We haven't won on the road this year and to come in and win when we were behind was good. We haven't been good in the fourth quarter. Last week we won the fourth quarter and this week we won it. We've been talking a lot about that."

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