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USF Loses A Heartbreaker To C. In War On I-4, 49-42

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This was the greatest and worst game in USF history.

NCAA Football: South Florida at Central Florida Reinhold Matay-USA TODAY Sports

USF tied the game at 42-all on an 83-yard pass from senior quarterback Quinton Flowers to Darnell Salomon with 1:41 left in the fourth quarter before C. kick returner Mike Hughes took the ensuing Bulls kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to give the Knights a 49-42 victory in an epic War On I-4.

“That’s a tough loss,” said head coach Charlie Strong, master of understatement.

The Bulls and Knights traded three touchdowns in 53 seconds in the fourth quarter, capped by the kickoff return.

Flowers set multiple USF records yesterday, including single-game passing yards (503), single-game total yards (605) and career total yards (11,385). In the process he became only the second player in FBS since 2000 with 500 passing yards and 100 rushing yards in a game, and he clearly cemented himself as the best player in USF history.

Both teams combined for 1,186 yards of offense, with Flowers outgaining C. by himself.

“I was locked in and focused on whatever my coach wanted me to do,” Flowers said. “Executing, moving my legs, putting the ball in the air, hitting my targets. I just came out and stayed locked in and focused on what I was supposed to, when I was supposed to do it.”

Flowers found junior wide receiver Tyre McCants early and often in the first half in as the wide out from Niceville broke Andre Davis’ single-game yardage record in the first half with 210 yards and he finished the game with nine catches for 227 yards.

McCants dragged a C. defender 12-yards to give the Bulls an early 7-0 lead.

It wouldn’t last long. Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton led three straight first-quarter scoring drives to give them a 21-7 lead. Heading into the second quarter, it looked like a rout in the making.

But USF defensive coordinator Brian Jean-Mary, who should be a Broyles Award finalist, took linebackers Auggie Sanchez and Nico Sawtelle off the field in favor of two more defensive backs to match up with the Knights’ speed. That decision worked well in the second quarter.

“We had to play what we call our dime package because we tried to match speed for speed because early on they were getting outside and outrunning us,” Strong said.

The Bulls forced four punts in the quarter, and in the process held the Knights scoreless in a quarter for just the third time all season. Meanwhile, Flowers kept cooking in the Knights defense with passing touchdowns to senior Temi Alaka on a perfectly placed back shoulder throw, and another to tight end Mitchell Wilcox open to make it 21-20 going into halftime.

Senior kicker Emilio Nadelman had a rough game, missing wide right from 42-yards in the first quarter then doinking the PAT after the Alaka TD. Then to cap things off, his short (by design) kickoff led to the fatal blow for the Bulls late in the fourth quarter.

The Bulls will finish the season 9-2 and miss out on a conference title game for the third year in a row. When Strong was asked if he was satisfied with the season, his answer was a short and curt, “yes.”

USF awaits their bowl destination, and wherever it is, it will be a disappointment. This was supposed to be the year for the Bulls. It’s an awful way for Flowers and the senior class to go out. They deserved better from the coaching staff.

Even in defeat, the nation took notice of Flowers and many agreed it was the best college football game so far this season.

“I gave it my all,” Flowers said. “Way before we went out, guys were saying, “Empty the bucket.” Just go out there and put it all on the line. That was the only thing going through my mind, just put it on the line for the guys. Whatever you have to do, just do it.”