Tampa – Down ten with a quarter remaining, the South Florida Bulls orchestrated a calculated 76-yard drive to bring the game back to a one-score margin.
With Georgia Tech driving inside the Bulls’ 25, USF needed a huge stop to have a chance to come back.
They’d get it.
Qua Searcy rumbled to his left, looking for a lane to run through. Instead of finding a lane, he’d find Bentlee Sanders. Sanders stripped the football, allowing Nico Sawtelle to grab it, giving USF the ball with over seven minutes to play.
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Blake Barnett, known for his strong arm, would instead use his legs to rush for 47 yards as a part of an 88-yard drive to give the Bulls a 42-38 lead.
That would be all they needed.
On the ensuing drive, Sawtelle intercepted a tipped pass to halt a chance at a comeback. Having just 18 yards to go, Barnett netted a five-yard rushing touchdown to give the Bulls the cushion they needed.
“We knew we needed to come together to get the offense the ball,” Sawtelle said.
The Bulls had to come together in a big way after giving up 533 yards of total offense before grabbing the 10-point lead.
Georgia Tech and USF played a shootout, to say the least in front of an announced crowd of 34,182 at Raymond James Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
The Yellow Jackets opened the scoring with a 35-yard field goal. A low-scoring game seemed imminent.
Enter: Terrance Horne.
On the ensuing kickoff, Horne took a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown. After TaQuon Marshall zigged and zagged through the Bulls defense for a 45-yard touchdown run, Horne would do it again, this time from 97 in a crazy turn of events.
Horne broke a USF single-game record for most kickoff return yards. He finished with 264 yards on 5 returns.
At Miramar High School, Horne was the 2018 FHSAA Class 4A 100m Champion – Florida’s largest classification. He’s taken his speed with him to the collegiate level.
“It was a long road, I used to be just the speed guy,” Horne said. “My coach, Ivan McCartney, in my senior year of high school, really helped me develop my game and my technique, I’m so grateful for him.”
Horne would score in the fourth off a 3-yard pass from Barnett. Expect more of him in the weeks to come.
“He played a little for us last week,” head coach Charlie Strong said. “He had a good practice and he blows by everyone whenever we throw the deep ball.:
Marshall hit Clinton Lynch for an 81-yard touchdown over the middle to give Georgia Tech a 17-14 lead to end the first quarter. Those last three scoring plays took under a minute off the clock.
In the second, Darnell Salomon took a bubble screen from Barnett 18 yards to put USF back on top. That would stand for a while.
Tobias Oliver stood in for Marshall after he went down with a leg injury. He made his mark on Georgia Tech’s first drive of the second half when he scored on a five-yard run.
Shortly after, Duran Bell netted his first career touchdown with a 14-yard run to give USF the lead back. Bell finished with 69 yards on 12 carries before going down with a right foot injury. He was in a boot after the game. Strong had no update on Bell on Saturday’s post-game press conference.
With the win, USF improved to 6-1 its last seven meetings with Power Five programs. They’ll get another P5 school next season with Illinois. The Bulls improved to 1-0 against the Yellow Jackets – the two schools will play each other again in 2019.
Barnett finished 21-for-31, good for 202 yards and a pair of scores. He led the Bulls in rushing with 86 on 15 carries. Tyre McCants had 104 yards on 10 receptions on Saturday.
Defensively, Khalid McGee led the Bulls in tackles alongside Ronnie Hoggins with nine. Hoggins also had an interception in the second quarter.
The Bulls will look to win their third straight game to begin the season, as they will travel to Soldier Field in Chicago to battle with Illinois.