Despite questionable play-calling, dreadful tackling, untimely turnovers, and constant lead changes... the USF Bulls found a way to do what they’ve done more than a whole lot of programs around the country the last couple years. Win.
Senior quarterback and possibly (certainly) the greatest player in the history of USF football Quinton Flowers connected with Tyre McCants for a 26-yard touchdown pass with just 16 seconds remaining to secure the 38-34 win over Texas Tech.
It’s the Bulls’ second consecutive Birmingham Bowl victory, and third overall. USF finishes the season 10-2 to record back-to-back double-digit win seasons after not having any in their first 19 seasons.
"It's a great win for us, coming out to beat a Power Five team,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “We needed it because I always look at it like this: we are a Power Five team.”
Flowers, named MVP of the game, finished 17-for-34 for 311 yards with four passing touchdowns. He added 106 yards on the ground and another touchdown.
In his final game at USF, Flowers becomes just the 4th quarterback in FBS history to pass for 8,000 yards and rush for 3,500 yards in his career. Flowers passed USF great Marlon Mack to become USF’s all-time leading rusher, and he also broke Marquel Blackwell’s career touchdown pass record with 71. All-time total yardage in American Athletic Conference history? Yes, Flowers broke that Saturday as well, with 11,802 yards for his career.
Flowers accounted for five touchdowns, broke seven more school records to bring his total to 34. Oh, and he led USF on a game-winning drive with under a minute remaining on Saturday afternoon at Legion Field. Fittingly, his last play as a Bull was the game-winning touchdown pass. There has never been a better player to take the field at USF, and may not be one for a long time to come.
“It’s been a great four years here. It’s just happening for me. I go out there and play the game I love,” Flowers said. “I don’t think about records... I just go out and play the game I love.”
Texas Tech (6-7) opened the scoring with a 12-play, 67-yard drive that ended in a 26-yard field goal for an early 3-0 lead. USF’s first drive of the game was eerily similar and ended with a 25-yard field goal from senior kicker Emilio Nadelman.
Nadelman went on to set the new season scoring-record for a kicker with 115 points.
The first big moment of the game came when senior Deadrin Senat sacked Red Raiders quarterback Nic Shimonek on fourth down to give the Bulls a turnover on downs in the first quarter.
Senat finished with a career-high three sacks in his final game as Bull.
“The defensive line mindset was just get off the field and give the ball back to Q,” Senat said. “We just kept telling ourselves... get off the field. Get off the field.”
The game was tied 10-10 at halftime after Flowers found McCants for the first of his two touchdowns in the closing seconds of the second quarter. The 21-yard touchdown pass was set up by a shanked Red Raider punt and gave the Bulls a lift after a dreadful first half.
McCants finished the game with six catches for 88 yards and the two touchdowns.
Trailing 27-24 with 5:02 remaining, Flowers connected with fellow senior Marquez-Valdes Scantling for a 64-yard touchdown pass to give the Bulls the lead back, but it didn’t last long.
Shimonek’s 25-yard touchdown pass to a wide open T.J. Vasher immediately following the USF score put Texas Tech back on top 34-31 with 1:31 to play.
It might have been enough to give Texas Tech the victory. But then, the GOAT struck with 16 ticks remaining in the game and in his career.
“For me, this program was in the dirt when we got here. Not a lot of people realize what went into turning this around,” senior linebacker Auggie Sanchez said. “The consistent grind of trying to get it figured out... to come and win back-to-back Birmingham Bowls and finish again with double digit wins, that’s something special.”
Sanchez made his 50th and final start for USF on Saturday, tying George Selvie for most career starts as a Bull.
“I always think about the journey and it’s been an unbelievable journey this whole season. We started off and I thought we were going to go undefeated and win a conference championship, but we hit a few stumbling blocks,” Strong said. “This is a very resilient group of guys, down five times and then to go win this football game. I always remembered it’s the seniors on this team and the leadership they have provided the whole season.“
So, that’s it. The journey is indeed over. The best senior class this university has ever seen. The men responsible for turning this football program around. The men responsible for putting USF back on the map. You did it. 21-4 in your final 25 games. You made USF football special again.
There’s still no conference championships in the trophy case, and Birmingham isn’t where any of us wanted to end up again. But we can’t take away what Quinton Flowers meant to this program, the fans, and the university.
We thank you, and we will never forget you Q.