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Bulls offense climbs hill, tops Western Kentucky

[Times photo: John Pendygraft]
Western Kentucky wide receiver Antonio Veals is hit by Roy Manns, left, and Glenn Davis, right, during action Saturday night.

By ANTONYA ENGLISH

© St. Petersburg Times, published November 5, 2000


TAMPA -- All week leading up to South Florida's game against Western Kentucky, USF coach Jim Leavitt talked about how difficult the Hilltoppers' option offense would be to keep in check.

He neglected to mention how tough his own offense might be.

South Florida quarterback Marquell Blackwell had a career game Saturday night, throwing for more than 300 yards to lead the Bulls to a 30-24 victory over undefeated Western Kentucky.

A homecoming crowd of 31,104 watched South Florida (6-3) defeat the No. 6 team in Division I-AA. It was the third-largest crowd to attend a USF game at Raymond James Stadium.

With the victory, South Florida guarantees itself a winning season for the third consecutive year and evened the series with Western Kentucky (8-1) at two. The Bulls have won three of their last five games against ranked Division I-AA teams.

There have been times this season when the Bulls relied heavily on their defense to win. Saturday night, the offense took care of itself.

The Bulls amassed 339 yards of offense through three quarters, including 288 in the air.

But when necessary, the defense was there to lend a hand. South Florida held WKU to 171 rushing yards and 48 passing through three quarters. And it was the defense that helped seal the win.

Leading 30-21 midway through the fourth quarter, South Florida strong safety Joe Morgan forced Western Kentucky quarterback Jason Johnson to fumble as he was driving into the end zone with six minutes left. Morgan also recovered the ball.

Western Kentucky had pulled to within 27-21 with 12:55 left in the game on a 3-yard run by DeWayne Gallishaw.

But on South Florida's next possession, Bill Gramatica kicked a 27-yard field goal with 9:22 left for a 30-21 lead.

Western Kentucky scored once more -- a 34-yard field goal by Peter Martinez with 2:41 left. The Hilltoppers had a last shot at pulling out a win, but time ran out on their final drive.

Leavitt was concerned about Western Kentucky's ability to run the option, but it was South Florida's offense that struck first -- and quickly.

On the Bulls' second play of the game, Blackwell threw a perfect pass to senior Scott McCready as he ran across the middle. The result was a 40-yard touchdown and a 7-0 lead for USF. The drive covered 56 yards in 32 seconds.

But the lead would be short-lived, thanks to a couple of mistakes by the Bulls.

After the South Florida defense held the Hilltoppers to three plays and out, the Bulls managed two mishandled plays before Western Kentucky took over again.

South Florida committed a 10-yard penalty (blocking in the back) and Rafael Williams fumbled on the next play after catching a pass from Blackwell. That gave the Hilltoppers a first down on the USF 40-yard line.

Western Kentucky took full advantage of the USF miscues. Three plays after the fumble, quarterback Johnson scampered 29 yards for a touchdown to culminate a four-play, 40-yard drive and tie at 7.

On its next possession, Western Kentucky took over and mounted a 12-play drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run by fullback Kevin Crisp. The Hilltoppers led 14-7 with 18 seconds left in the first quarter.

Suddenly, South Florida found itself reeling from two Western Kentucky scores within a four-minute span.

That's when the Bulls started to rally. The comeback was led by sharp passes from Blackwell to McCready, Hugh Smith, DeAndrew Rubin and Charlie Jackson. There were short out patterns and long passes. And all seemed to be working.

The Bulls' passing game bolstered its offense. At halftime, South Florida had gained 231 yards in the air, to 35 rushing yards on 11 carries. Blackwell was 17-for-23 in the first half, with no interceptions; 22-for-32 at the end of three quarters.

Western Kentucky, on the other hand, gained 15 passing yards in the first half, but managed 119 yards on 26 carries.

South Florida trailed 14-10 when the Bulls put together their most dramatic drive of the game, aided by a 13-yard punt by WKU's Alan Ogletree. The drive went 42 yards in 10 plays and included two crucial fourth-down conversions.

The Bulls took a 17-14 lead on a 4-yard run by Blackwell with 5:33 left in the second quarter. South Florida capped the quarter with Blackwell's 1-yard touchdown run with 56 seconds left for a 24-14 lead. The Bulls never trailed again.

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