Written by Ernie Casanova
TAMPA, FL— It was a beautiful hot and dry night here at Raymond James Stadium. The USF Bulls came in riding an undefeated record playing extremely well the in the last couple of games, while the East Carolina Pirates were in upset mode. The night consisted of physical defensive play and quick changes of possession, but the Bulls were able to stick it out against this talented Pirates squad and win by a score of 20-13. With the help of some late game heroics, the Bulls squeezed by to earn their first victory in conference play of the season.
It was a difficult time for the Bulls, as the Pirates didn’t want to agree with the general consensus of this being an easy matchup for USF. In the first four minutes of the game, ECU put seven quick points on the board to give them an early lead. After that, the Pirates just couldn’t recreate that energy at all on any drive while their defense did all it could to keep them in the game. The Bulls scored on their second possession with a QB scramble by Blake Barnett and then took the lead 3 minutes into the second quarter after a 66-yard bomb from Barnett to WR Darnel Salmon, but they too had trouble rekindling the spark after that. After the Pirates kicked a field goal to shorten the deficit to 13-10, both teams went into their locker rooms at the half struggling to find an offensive groove.
The defenses were doing their job, but most of the offensive drives from each team resulted in drives up the field that ran out of gas. Ironically, with ECU trailing most of the game they were still out-gaining the Bulls in total yardage by almost 100 through the middle of the third quarter. With seven minutes left in the third, the Pirates had already converted 11 more first downs and were winning the time of possession battle by 14 minutes.
Still, it wasn’t enough as they didn’t create enough opportunities to separate themselves on the scoreboard. “You know we played really, really hard on both offense and defense tonight,” says head coach Scottie Montgomery. “There was two plays for them that they made the screen and go and then the long run by number two who got away from us and ran… We weren’t quite gap sound there. We’ll take a look at that to make sure we get that fixed.”
ECU QB Reid Herring finished the game going 21-47 for 253 yards with no touchdowns and no interceptions. Running back Holton Ahlers had the lone touchdown on a two-yard run on the opening drive and finished with 12 rushes for 48 yards. Wide receiver Trevon Brown led the receiving corps with 99 yards on six catches. East Carolina ended the game with more total yardage, a larger time of possession and more first downs converted than the Bulls, but they couldn’t get into the end-zone when it mattered the most.
USF QB Blake Barnett didn’t complete his 10th pass until the third quarter almost ended and was responsible for 153 of the team’s 171 yards at the time. The Bulls were having much trouble pushing the ball upfield, yet Barnett was having a decent game. He was sacked six times throughout tonight’s contest, but even with all that pressure he still prevented himself from making costly mistakes and focused on the chances after. To finish the game, he went 12-20 for 181 yards and one touchdown pass with a TD on the ground as well. While achieving a QB rating of 149.5, the offense didn’t do enough to consistently get to the end-zone as the team punted seven times with some of those punts coming on drives where they should’ve converted it into points.
Running back Jordan Cronkrite broke the game open with just under 11 minutes to play when he broke free for an 80-yard run. That gave the Bulls the much-needed breathing room and led them to the late victory. Shortly after, the Bulls put the game on ice with a last-minute interception to end any hope of ECU creating a comeback. Cronkrite led the group in rushing with 129 yards on 15 rushes. “I was just trying to give my team a lift. We weren’t really clicking on offense like we really needed,” states Cronkrite, who was with the Florida Gators up until prior to the 2017 season.
WR Darnel Solomon finished leading the receiving corps with two catches for 79 yards, as his 66-yard touchdown catch early on in the night was the highlight of the evening. WR Johnny Ford came in second, with one catch for 39 yards.
USF (4-0) will take on UMass (2-3) in Amherst, Massachusetts on October 6th, while ECU (1-2) will take on Old Dominion (1-3) on September 29th.
(Photo Credit: Diego Bonilla / The SkyBoat)