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Yes, You Saw It Right, But Don't Be So Shocked


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http://www.tbo.com/sports/MGBNAXM3D6F.html

By JOE HENDERSON

Published: Sep 9, 2007

AUBURN, Ala. - Sometimes you just have to rub your eyes and make sure you're really seeing clearly. But yes, that really was South Florida running off the field Saturday night, victorious, in one of the storied settings of college football, Jordan-Hare Stadium.

The Bulls really did beat Auburn.

They endured. They overcame mistake after mistake.

They won. If you tuned out early because of the late hour, feel bad.

There will be many who'll call USF's 26-23 overtime victory an upset and maybe it was. After all, this was the place where the Florida Gators got their only hiccup last season en route to a national championship. But if you go only by what happened on the field and throw out the decades of tradition from years gone by, it sure didn't seem like an upset.

It seemed like the right team won.

The better team.

Many, many things went wrong for the Bulls on this night.

They squandered so many chances for points. They appeared beaten so many times.

But so what? Look who was celebrating at the end. Did anything else matter?

This was not a green-and-gold fluke that beat the Tigers in their own house. No sir, it was a team that played with the determination that served it so well last season when they went to Morgantown and shocked West Virginia.

Maybe that's it - we shouldn't be shocked any more.

The Bulls belong.

By whatever measuring stick you want to use, they belong.

Get used to it.

Quieted The Crowd

The Bulls and the 2,500 or so faithful who followed them here couldn't have asked for a better start. When Bulls running back Mike Ford scored from the 2 with 1:56 to go in the opening quarter, USF had a 14-3 lead.

That score said so many things on so many levels.

It said that USF's speed was a problem for the Tigers and would be all night. It said that whatever thought anyone had about the Bulls being intimidated by an SEC environment like this probably should be abandoned.

It took the crowd out of the game.

It gave the Bulls a chance to play the way they wanted - not catch-up against an opponent on a roll.

Even when Auburn came back to lead 17-14 by the end of the half, you got the feeling the Bulls were one good play away.

That one good play sure took its time getting there, though.

Three times USF forced turnovers from Auburn in the third quarter and three times the Bulls came up with nothing. Kicker Delbert Alvarado missed two field goals and had a third one blocked.

Stuff like that is supposed to get you beat, especially in a place like this.

You're not supposed to be able to overcome that kind of self-inflicted damage against Auburn.

That's where you find out if you really belong on a stage like this, though.

Can you fight through it?

The Bulls could.

The Bulls did.

Frantic Finish

Alvarado? Remember him?

His 38-yard field goal with 7:46 to play tied the score.

With the crowd at Jordan-Hare anticipating - demanding - their lads drive down and finish off these green-and-gold pests, USF cornerback Mike Jenkins ran an interception to the 4. But they couldn't push it in and Alvarado missed again from 21.

How could they possibly win this game?

Especially after Auburn took the lead with 2:54 to play on a 46-yard field goal.

But then Jerome Murphy returned the kickoff 59 yards and pretty soon there was Alvarado, kicking a 19-yard field goal with 55 seconds left to tie the score again and force overtime.

And when Auburn took the lead with a field goal to start the extra period, so what? Quarterback Matt Grothe, so cool under so much pressure most of the night, converted a fourth-and-1 sneak to keep the drive alive, then followed with a 14-yard touchdown pass to Jessie Hester.

It ignited a wild celebration on the field and sent the USF fans into delirium.

They earned it.

No, they weren't seeing things. There it was, showing clearly on the scoreboard at the south end zone: USF 26, Auburn 23.

No need to rub your eyes. It's real, folks.

It's real.

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