TAMPA — The East Carolina Pirates and South Florida Bulls met in an American Athletic Conference matchup, which was also USF’s Homecoming game, and the Bulls came away with their second win in conference play in as many weeks, defeating the Pirates 38-22. The victory is the sixth straight conference win for the Bulls.
“It was a great win,” said South Florida Head Coach Willie Taggart. “It wasn’t necessarily pretty at times but a great win for our ball club, great win for our alumni that are back here for homecoming. It’s great for our guys to go out and perform and get everyone a victory that we wanted. I thought the ballgame showed a lot of courage in our football team, how we let East Carolina get back in it and our guys came back and made a play when we needed a play, and that was great to see out of our football team, out there playing as bad as we did throughout the game.”
Both teams came out a little slow offensively, with the Pirates drawing first blood on a on a 40 yard FG by Senior K Davis Plowman on their first offensive drive.
Late in the first quarter, on the Bulls’ second offensive possession, ECU Freshman DB Colby Gore was ejected for a questionable targeting call on a pass intended for USF Senior WR Rodney Adams, and it proved to have a detrimental effect on the Pirate defense. In addition, the pass was ruled incomplete by the back judge, but the replay showed that it was actually intercepted by the Pirates defense, as the ball never hit the ground.
Multiple replays in the press box area seemed to show Gore leading with his right shoulder and not his helmet. As well, the rule states that the player must hit the opponent with the crown of the helmet, which Gore did not appear to do. The accompanying photograph, from photographer Vicki DiAddezo, also calls into question whether the contact was indeed helmet to helmet. Nevertheless, after replay, the penalty was assessed and accepted by USF, making the interception/incompletion a moot point. Three plays later, Bulls Junior QB Quinton Flowers completed a 6 yard TD pass to Junior RB D’Ernest Johnson to put the Bulls up 7-3.
“I’m very disappointed that we lost a kid for a game,” said Pirate Head Coach Scottie Montgomery, who was coaching in his first-ever game against USF. “When we are coaching him to lower his target and use the shoulder, you coach a kid to do that, and then that happens. He even asked questions as to why, and as a coach you have to be able to give him those answers. The call was made and I respect the call. It went upstairs, it went to replay. Unfortunately, we’re not on the right side this time.”
After each team exchanged field goals, Flowers and Johnson connected again late in the second quarter on an 11 yard TD pass to make the score Bulls 17 and Pirates 6.
“All week we felt like they were going to give us one-on-one pressure,” said Flowers. “They did. We got fast guys outside, so we went quick game and went with what they gave us.”
Johnson is a candidate for the Paul Hornung Award and boosted his claim to the award today. He has had a TD in each game this season, and today, he had a solid performance with 36 yards rushing and 53 yards receiving and 2 TDs. Johnson almost had a third TD in the final minute of play, but the Bulls were called for offensive pass interference.
“I’m running out of things to say about the kid,” said Taggart. “He does it all for us. He’s awesome. I’m glad he’s on our football team. The kid just loves to play football. I think D’Ernest is our best football player on this team. He’s that guy. He finds a way to get into the end zone. Maybe we need to change his name to ‘TD’.”
The Pirates played without Senior NT Demetri McGill. His replacement Senior NT Fred Presley and
the Pirate defense struggled to find an answer for Johnson, Flowers, and Junior RB Marlon Mack. Mack rushed for 152 yards and two TDs, his 16th game with over 100 yards rushing. Mack’s first TD gave the Bulls a 24-6 lead coming out of halftime.
On ECU’s second drive of the second half, Senior QB Phillip Nelson left the game with an injury and Sophomore QB Gardner Minshew completed the drive with a 1 yard TD pass to Senior WR Zay Jones to make the score 24-13 in favor of the Bulls. Jones had 18 receptions for 145 yards, the most catches ever by an opposing receiver against a USF defense.
Minshew seemed to have little difficulty moving the ball down the field against the Bulls. He led the Pirates to a couple of scoring drives in the third and fourth quarters that brought the Pirates within two points of the Bulls. Minshew finished the game with 220 yards passing, one TD, and one interception while only playing essentially half a game.
“I thought he had a better chance of being successful this week because he had a week of practice and he also knew his personnel better,” said Montgomery. “He did a really good job for us coming in.”
“My preparation is the same,” said Minshew. “I’ve been ready all year, it’s just a lot more weight on your shoulders, pressure to perform for your teammates. I feel the more reps I get the better, I’ll be, and the more trust the guys will have in me.”
But the Bulls offense was too much for the Pirate defense. Flowers connected with Adams on a 62 yard TD pass and, after a 34 yard interception return by Senior LB Nigel Harris (his second of the season), Mack added a 9 yard TD run to complete the scoring at 38-22.
“It’s always good to answer back with a positive,” said Adams. “You have to have a strong team to answer back as well and that’s what we are. We keep coming together as a brotherhood to get the job done.”
Now that the Bulls are 5-1 overall, one more victory will make the team bowl eligible.
“It’s a great feeling,” said Flowers. “Everybody on this team knows we have something ahead of us. We take it just one game at a time. Everyday. We always just worry about the next team in front of us and we don’t worry about teams down the line.”
GAME NOTES: Announced attendance was 30,397… This game was the Bulls Homecoming Game… The Leroy Selmon Family served as honorary captains for today’s game… East Carolina had only been flagged 22 times going into today’s game. Today the Pirates were only penalized twice… USF’s D’Ernest Johnson is a second cousin of NFL All-Pro RB Edgerrin James, both from Immokalee, FL.. USF’s Marlon Mack is now tied with QB B.J. Daniels (2008-2012) for the most career TDs in USF history with 25… USF extended their Nation-leading streak of 200+ yards rushing to 11 consecutive games. They have also scored at least 35 points in 10 consecutive games which leads the nation as well… For the seventh time in program history, USF had a pair of 100-yard rushers in the same game — RB Marlon Mack (18 carries for 152 yards) and QB Quinton Flowers (16 carries for 115 yards). Mack and Flowers also combined for 100-yard rushing games against Western Kentucky in the 2015 Miami Beach Bowl… The next home game for the Bulls is Saturday, October 15, 2016 vs. the UConn Huskies at 7pm.