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USF Survives East Carolina Scare With 20-13 Win In Conference Opener

A win is a win. Again.

East Carolina v South Florida Photo by Joseph Garnett Jr./Getty Images

Junior running back Jordan Cronkrite busted through for an 80-yard touchdown with 10:13 remaining in the fourth quarter to propel the South Florida Bulls to a 20-13 win over the East Carolina Pirates in the American Conference opener at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday night.

“It wasn’t pretty,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “We weren’t ready to play tonight. But it’s good that you get the win. We just made the plays at the right time.”

Despite another sluggish start, registering only nine first downs, allowing six sacks, running just 52 plays (the fewest since 2015) and getting outgained 412-296, the Bulls rallied for a third straight week in the final quarter.

The Pirates (1-2, 0-1 AAC) opened the scoring on the game’s first drive, going 82 yards on nine plays to grab an early 7-0 lead.

After going three and out on their first drive, the Bulls offense responded with a nine play, 68-yard drive highlighted by freshman Johnny Ford’s first reception for 39 yards and capped off with a Blake Barnett two-yard touchdown. The extra point by Coby Weiss was blocked.

Trailing 7-6 at the end of one quarter, junior wide receiver Darnell Salomon hauled in one of the few offensive highlights of the night, a 66-yard touchdown on a screen-and-go play that fooled two Pirates corners to give the Bulls their first lead of the game.

Salomon led all Bulls receivers with 79 yards on two receptions. He has caught a touchdown pass in three straight games.

The Bulls (4-0, 1-0 AAC) grabbed a 13-10 halftime lead but the offense, outside of the big Cronkrite run, pretty much halted there.

In fact, the Bulls’ first nine drives included six three-and-outs, two touchdowns and a lost fumble. Deangelo Antoine coughed up the ball on USF’s second play from scrimmage in the second half.

“It’s pretty frustrating, it really is,” Barnett said. “We have to come out and be better. We have a lot of things to work on and we left a lot on the field. We can’t think we can play like that every week and win.”

The junior quarterback completed 12 of 20 passes for 181 yards.

Tied 13-13 in the fourth quarter, Cronkrite provided the spark that the 34,562 in attendance and his USF teammates needed, taking off for the longest scoring run by a Bull since Rodney Adams two years ago.

“I was just trying to give my team a lift,” Cronkrite said. “We weren’t really clicking on offense like we really needed.”

After receiving pregame word that running backs Elijah Mack, Duran Bell, Trevon Sands and Dave Small would all be out with injury, Cronkrite led the charge with 129 yards on 19 carries.

“I really had the easy job,” Cronkrite added. “All I did was run straight.”

Fittingly, it was the USF defense that secured the victory when redshirt freshman DB Nick Roberts brought down his first career interception at the Pirates 44-yard line with less than two minutes remaining. His play kept the Bulls perfect and gave the program its 150th win in 255 tries, the fastest that feat has been accomplished by a Florida FBS team.

With plenty to fix, USF will head into the bye week before returning to action at UMass on Saturday, October 6 at 3:30 p.m.