The bowl season is still young, but we have our soggiest game of the year so far going on in Tampa. Despite playing in their home stadium, South Florida’s woes are continuing against Marshall with the Thundering Herd leading the Bulls 28-10 at halftime in the Bad Bowl Mowers Gasparilla Bowl.
Marshall quarterback Isaiah Green got the scoring started midway through the first quarter with a 10-yard run. It wouldn’t take long for Marshall to add to the lead. A botched snap by USF was recovered and returned by Darius Hodge to the one-yard line. Anthony Anderson leaped over a pile at the goal line on the very next play to make it a 14-0 lead for the Herd.
USF got on the board on their next drive when senior wide receiver Tyre McCants fooled the Marshall defense with a 38-yard pass down the field to a streaking Randall St. Felix for a much-needed score. But Marshall would fire right back on the ensuing possession to regain their 14-point edge. Brenden Knox scored on an eight-yard run at the end of a quick drive highlighted by a 42-yard pass to Tyre Brady.
Late in the second quarter, Marshall had Green pooch punt on a fourth down from the USF .34-yard line, pinning the Bulls at their own one-yard line. The Marshall defense forced a quick three-and-out to force a punt from the back of the end zone, and a 28-yard return by Marcel Williams gave Marshall a first down from the 17-yard line. That led to a Keion Davis touchdown run of five yards to build a 28-7 lead.
I’ll allow you to try catching your breath before we try to recap exactly what happened in the final minutes of the War on I-4 between two AAC championship contenders. No. 15 UCF (11-0, 8-0 AAC) came out on the positive end of a wild and crazy ending to keep the regular season spotless in the loss column. UCF scored a go-ahead touchdown, gave up a tying touchdown, scored the game-winning touchdown and recovered a late fumble to close the books on a 49-42 victory over rival USF (9-2, 6-2 AAC) in the span of just two minutes.
UCF and USF combined for over 1,100 yards of offense in the back-and-forth game, but UCF scored three touchdowns in the first and fourth quarters to get off to a fast start and find a way to grab the game by the horns and drive it home. McKinzie Milton passed for 373 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 56 yards and a score to help the Knights outlast a valiant effort from Quinton Flowers and a record-setting day for USF wide receiver Tyre McCants. Flowers passed for 503 yards and four touchdowns and rushed for 102 yards and a score. McCants broke the USF record for most receiving yards in a game in the first half, but ended his day with 227 yards.
USF had their opportunities to win this game. The Bulls missed a field goal in the first half and Flowers threw his only interception late in the first half when it appeared the Bulls could have taken a lead into halftime. The fumble by Mitchell Wilcox came at the end of a play that was moving the ball across midfield in the final moments. USF, the preseason favorite in the AAC, will still be going to a bowl game and should be a threat to whomever they face, but two losses along the way prevented them from living up to the lofty expectations placed on them this season.
UCF will host Memphis in the AAC Championship Game next week. The winner of that game will be nearly guaranteed a spot in the New Years Six bowl line-up as both teams are currently the highest-ranked teams in the playoff selection committee’s weekly rankings. UCF defeated Memphis earlier in the season with a 40-13 victory in Orlando, but the Tigers have been playing much better since that game. The rematch should be much more competitive next week.
UCF wrapped up a perfect regular season on the same day No., 2 Miami suffered its first loss of the year. UCF is now the only undefeated team in the state of Florida this season.