Home Sweet Homecoming, Bulls Beat Pitt 22-12

The Bulls opened their Homecoming game against Big East rival Pittsburgh in impressive fashion as 35,671 fans watched the Bulls become bowl eligible after a 22-12 victory.

After unsuccessfully gaining a first down on the opening three plays of the game, the (6-3, 2-2) Bulls faced fourth and six from the 36 yard line. Punter Justin Teachey took the snap and ran a fake punt to the right for a 10 yard gain. After running two plays for no gain, Matt Grothe connected with Taurus Johnson on third and 13 for a 13 yard gain. Two plays later, Taurus Johnson took a double reverse 22 yards for the Bulls' first score of the game. Delbert Alverado, the replacement for inconsistent Mike Benzer, was successful on the point after.

Early on in the second quarter, the Bulls attempted to quickly respond to a 42 yard field goal by the (6-3, 2-2) Panthers. USF was able to convert on another fourth down when Justin Teachey turned a fake punt into a 14 yard gain. The drive stalled from that point on and ended when Grothe dropped the snap on fourth and five and was then intercepted by the Panthers' defense. The turnover did not hurt the Bulls though since the defense responded by forcing Pittsburgh to punt after only three plays.

South Florida's offense started at midfield thanks to a short punt by the Panthers. The Bulls ran the ball five times even though the drive lasted for only six plays. Grothe ended the drive with a two yard rushing touchdown after faking a handoff up the middle to Ricky Ponton to put his team ahead on the scoreboard.14-3. The short score was set up by a 24 yard rush by Grothe and a 12 yard run by Ponton.

The second half opened with a 20 yard completion for the Panthers, but the Bulls' defense refused to break. Two plays later, Jeremy Burnett picked off Tyler Palko at the Panthers 28 yard line. In response, USF was unable to gain a first down but were perfectly set up for Alvarodo's first field goal attempt of the day. The kick did not go past the line of scrimmage though since the Panthers were able to block the 37 yard attempt.

The defense refused to budge and once again the Panthers were forced to punt after only three plays. It would not take long before the defense would have to come through again. On the first play of the drive, Grothe completed a five yard pass to Cediric Hill before the Panthers forced Hill to fumble. Pittsburgh immediately jumped on the ball for their fourth turnover of the game.

The Panthers put together their best offensive drive of the game following the turnover, but were kept out of the end zone by the defense for USF. Instead they had to settle for a 34 yard field goal to cut the lead to 14-6.

On the ensuing drive, the Bulls were able to drive 79 yards in only five plays. After three consecutive plays for positive yards, Grothe quickly put an end to the drive with a 46 yard strike to Amarri Jackson to increase the Bulls lead. The extra point by Alverado was unsuccessful so the score remained 20-6. Jackson had three catches on the day for 47 yards and a score.

Pittsburgh attempted to respond before the third quarter could run out, but the Bulls' defense came up huge yet again. After reaching midfield, Palko attempted to go deep to pull the Panthers within one score. The pass reached the end zone, Mike Jenkins jumped in front of the receiver to get his first interception of the season and more importantly give the Bulls the ball back while leading by two scores. Palko would go on to complete 11 of 23 for 159 yards and one score while being intercepted three times.

USF attempted to increase their lead following the turnover, but were only able to gain a first down after a Panthers' penalty. On the third play of the drive, Grothe took a hit and had to leave the game after reinjuring his right ankle. Prior to leaving, Grothe had completed 19 of 25 passes for 180 yards including one touchdown and two interceptions while rushing the ball 12 times for 54 yards and a score. Pat Julmiste came in as a replacement but the Bulls were forced to punt after only a few plays.

The Panthers started their ensuing drive on their own 14 yard line, but penalties forced the offense to be pushed back to the seven yard line. On the following play, Palko threw an incomplete pass but the referees ruled it was intentional grounding because no receivers were close to where the ball landed. The result was a safety for the Bulls for the first time since November of 2002.

After forcing the Bulls to punt, the Panthers came out firing. On the first play Palko completed a 14 yard pass to Marcel Pestano. Palko found Pestano again on the following play, this time for a 41 yard gain. Two plays later, the Panthers scored their first touchdown of the game after Palko hit tight end Darrell Strong for a 20 yard touchdown with 6:22 left in the 4th. But after an 15 yard unsportsmanlike penalty on Pitt, the two point conversion failed when Palko threw an incomplete pass intended for Pestano to keep the score 22-12.

The Bulls then ran off over five minutes on an 11 play 30 yard drive that ended on the Pitt 22 with 1:16 left in regulation. Three plays later Trae Williams netted his sixth interception of the season when he picked off Tyler Palko to seal the victory.

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