(Tampa, FL) USF gave No. 17 Cincinnati all it could handle in a 20-17 loss that went to the final second Saturday night at Raymond James Stadium.
Following the Bulls’ missed chance at a go-ahead field goal from 33 yards out with 2:07 to play, Sam Crosa made a 37-yard kick as time expired to earn the Bearcats (9-1, 6-0) at least a share of The American’s East Division title.
Powered by a solid defensive effort, USF (4-6, 2-4) took a 10-0 lead into halftime and held a 17-10 advantage early in the fourth quarter. The Bulls’ bid for their first win over a ranked opponent since 2016 was hampered by four missed field goals from 50, 53, 43 and 33 yards out.
Cincinnati, which came to Tampa averaging 32.7 points, was shut out in the first half for just the second time this season and was outgained by the Bulls by a 438-278 margin. Sophomore linebacker Antonio Grier Jr. led USF’s valiant defensive effort with a career-high 10 tackles, including two of USF’s eight tackles for loss and one of the team’s four sacks as the Bulls forced eight punts and gained a takeaway for the 10th straight game.
Redshirt freshman Jordan McCloud completed 18 of 27 passes for a career-high 267 yards and a touchdown. McCloud’s 4-yard scoring pass to senior tight end Mitchell Wilcox helped spot USF a 17-7 lead midway through the third quarter.
USF got a team-high 78 rushing yards from Jordan Cronkrite. The senior from Miami moved up to eighth on the program’s career rushing list with 1,808 yards. Freshman Kelley Joiner Jr. set career highs with 72 rushing yards on 13 carries and totaled a team-best 121 all-purpose yards.
Cincinnati didn’t get a first down until late in the first quarter and that drive resulted in its fourth punt. USF took advantage of the opportunity with a 28-yard field goal by freshman Spencer Shrader Freshman Xavier Weaver had a 37-yard reception on the 13-play, 85-yard drive.
Cincinnati found the end zone on the second drive of the second half before the Bulls answered right back. McCloud’s 4-yard touchdown pass to Wilcox capped off a seven-play, 75-yard drive that extended the USF lead to 17-7 with 7:12 to play in the third quarter. Joiner exploded downfield on the first play of the sequence with a career long 49-yard reception.
The Bearcats tied things up in the first minute of the fourth quarter, which set up a dramatic finish in the 17th meeting between the programs.
With the Bulls backed up at their own 3 midway through the quarter, McCloud threw a quick pass to junior Eddie McDoom, who raced downfield through defenders on a career-long 41 reception. Three plays later, McCloud completed a 19-yard pass to sophomore Bryce Miller on third-and-4 down to the Cincinnati 31. USF got as close as the Bearcats’ 15 before missing the potential go-ahead field goal with 2:07 remaining.
Cincinnati then converted twice on third-and-long and drove 60 yards to set up Crosa’s game-winning field goal in the final seconds.
“This one hurts and it hurts because you saw a great team effort tonight”, said Bulls Head Coach Charlie Strong. “Just the way our guys came out and the energy they had and just the way they played from start to finish. We had our opportunities, and it’s tough because of the opportunities that we had. There’s no blame for anyone. It’s one of those losses that’s a team loss. We have two games left and we’ve got to get to a bowl game.”
USF wraps up a three-game homestand Saturday, Nov. 23 against No. 18 Memphis. Kickoff time for the Bulls’ Senior Day game is 4 p.m. on ESPNU.
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