TAMPA (WFLA) – USF football (1-4; 0-1 AAC) took on its third Top 25 ranked opponent in its first six games Saturday at No. 24 Cincinnati (4-1; 1-0 ACC) and for the second time on the year nearly pulled off an improbable upset, leading in the fourth quarter before falling 28-24.
Cincinnati extended a 30-game home winning streak, the second-longest in the nation, and an 18-game AAC winning streak after claiming conference crowns in each of the last two seasons. The Bulls were playing a program-record fourth straight game away from Tampa.
Quarterback Gerry Bohanon ran for a career-best 117 yards and passed for 139 and two touchdowns. Xavier Weaver caught seven passes for 112 yards and a touchdown and Brian Battie ran for 82 yards and a touchdown. Dwayne Boyles led the Bulls in tackles for the second straight game, posting 11, and Aamaris Brown had an early interception that sparked an early 10-0 USF lead.
The Bulls, already down 14 scholarship players including eight starters on the day, lost starting center Brad Cecil in the first half and starting defensive tackle Rashad Cheney minutes into the second half due to injuries.
Following a first half in which the Bulls outgained Cincinnati 203-162 and led most of the way, USF took a 17-14 lead to halftime in front of a sold-out homecoming crowd of 38,557.
Cincinnati took the opening kickoff of the second half and regained the lead after marching 75 yards capped by a 1-yard run by Charles McClelland.
Trailing, 21-17, USF took the field at its own 18 and after gaining one first down was forced to punt. The Bearcats took the ball at the USF42 and drove to the 12, before the Bulls came up with a huge 4th-and-1 stop on a tackle from Davon Hicks.
On the next play, Bohanon raced up the sideline for a career-long 59-yard run and the Bulls were in business at the UC29. Four plays later, Bohanon hit Weaver on a 16-yard slant for the go-ahead touchdown and a 24-21 USF lead with 14:56 to play.
Cincinnati drove to the USF34 before Jatorian Hansford recorded a big sack that brought up 3rd-and-14. UC could not convert and punted the ball back to USF. The Bulls failed to move it from deep in their own territory and punted back to UC who took over on the 50 with 9:59 to play.
Two plays later, the Bearcats retook the lead on a 35-yard touchdown run from Charles McClelland.
Trailing 28-24, the Bulls drove into Cincinnati territory when Bohanon hit Weaver on an 18-yard completion to the UC44. USF moved to the UC25 before getting stopped on a 4th-and-1 on a Battie run with 5:12 to play.
UC gained three first downs, including a big 4th-and-1 at the USF31 to ice the game.
USF was aggressive from the start as the Bulls won the coin flip and head coach Jeff Scott elected to take the ball looking for a quicker start. USF responded, driving 75 yards in 11 plays, capped by a darting 22-yard run from Battie, to strike first with an early 7-0 lead. USF came up with several clutch third down conversions on the drive, including a 16-yard run from Bohanon, a first down toss to Khafre Brown and a third-down catch from Omarion Dollison.
On Cincinnati’s first play of the game, the Bearcats tried to strike deep but Brown picked it off and the Bulls offense took over on the USF31. The Bulls converted a big third-and-six at midfield, with Bohanon finding Weaver, and moved deep into UC territory with a 15-yard personal foul after the play. USF drove to the UC4 before settling for a 21-yard Spencer Shrader field goal and a 10-0 lead. The Bulls held a 124-0 advantage in yardage with 3:16 to play in the first quarter.
Cincinnati responded going 75 yards in six plays and getting on the board with a 28-yard touchdown pass from Ben Bryant to Jadon Thompson.
USF started its next drive on its own 9 and after managing one first down had to punt. With great field position, starting on the USF 45, the Bearcats quickly regained the lead as Bryant hit Nick Mardner for a 14-yard touchdown and a 14-10 Cincinnati lead.
The Bulls silenced the crowd marching 75 yards in 10 plays and retaking the lead, 17-14, when Bohanon hit Weaver on a beautiful corner fade on third-and-goal from the UC9.
After forcing Cincinnati to punt and fending off a late Hail Mary from the Bearcats with a Matt Hill interception in the endzone, the Bulls took a 17-14 lead to the half.