Have you ever heard of the movie Sliding Doors? It starred Gwyneth Paltrow before she became a pod person who has no idea how much things cost, and it set up two parallel universes with very different outcomes in a young woman's life, all based on whether or not she made a specific train one day in the London Underground.
I love the concept of "sliding doors," where one seemingly insignificant moment ends up being crucial to how future events unfold. We all know how pivotal the USF-Syracuse game was last season. But I'm going to narrow it down even further than that. I believe one play in the fourth quarter of that game may have changed the entire trajectory of USF football.
Here's how it looked on the official stat sheet:
3-14 USF 14 9-FLOWERS, Quinto pass complete to 81-BRONSON, Ryshen for 18 yards to the USF32, 1ST DOWN USF, out-of-bounds.
On 3rd and 14 at the USF 14-yard line, with the Bulls hanging on to a 31-24 lead, Ryeshene Bronson caught an 18-yard pass from Quinton Flowers to pick up a crucial first down. USF ended up scoring a touchdown on the drive to extend their lead to 38-24. A few plays later, Jamie Byrd intercepted Eric Dungey, and two plays after that, Flowers threw a touchdown pass to Rodney Adams to seal a badly-needed 45-24 win.
But this wasn't your typical 18-yard pass to Bronson. Watch this play and marvel.
Ryeshene Bronson did some incredible work on this play. It was a wide receiver screen, kind of a give-up call. He got almost no help from his blockers. He probably should have been brought down for a loss. Instead he broke four tackles and picked up the first down.
Now think about that play in the context of the game. The Bulls had led 24-3 in the middle of the third quarter. But Syracuse got into the groove and scored touchdowns on three straight possessions. USF didn't look like it had many answers for the Orange offense at that moment. Giving them the ball back at midfield after a three and out could have easily led to a tie game, and who knows what might have happened after that.
Now think about that game in the context of Willie Taggart's USF career. The Bulls were 1-3. The week before, they had gone into a shell with a 10-0 lead and lost a very winnable game to Memphis. At that point, after two-plus seasons of mostly hideous football, no one had any faith at all in USF's ability to win a game, or even play well for 60 minutes. The hot rumor was that if this Syracuse game went south badly enough, Taggart might have been let go right then and there. Wouldn't blowing a 21-point lead at home qualify? If the Bulls had lost that game after being up 24-3, we might be talking about a new coach and a new scheme and turmoil and guys leaving the program and another Year Zero right now.
Fortunately we don't have to do any of that. Bronson got the first down, USF won the game, and from there the Bulls went on an incredible run to finish the regular season 8-4. It was their best closing kick to a season since 2002. Now we're quite rightly talking about USF's chances to win their division, and maybe the conference. All thanks to those sliding doors.