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AP photo by Rob Carr
Auburn’s Quentin Groves (54) stops South Florida’s Benjamin Williams in the first quarter of the Tigers’ 26-23 overtime loss in Auburn on Saturday night

South Florida bullies Auburn in overtime

By Ross Dellenger
sports@decaturdaily.com · 340-2462

AUBURN — Defensive end Quentin Groves was the last remaining Auburn player on Pat Dye Field.

He sulked and stared at the green-clad visiting fans from South Florida as they celebrated what is possibly their program’s biggest victory in its 11-year history. And it happened right in his backyard.

Bulls quarterback Matt Grothe found receiver Jessie Hester at the goal line in overtime to give South Florida a 26-23 victory over No. 17 Auburn on Saturday night in Jordan-Hare Stadium.

“I am proud of the battling we did,” South Florida coach Jim Leavitt said. “It was a big win for us.”

Auburn’s defense played nearly good enough to salvage a sluggish offense for the second week in a row, but in the end, the Tigers couldn’t stop Grothe, who completed 18 of 27 passes for 184 yards, including that game-winning score.

Auburn defender Chris Evans (99) breaks up a pass intended for South Florida’s Amariri Jackson in the first quarter of action in Auburn on Saturday night.
AP photo by Rob Carr
Auburn defender Chris Evans (99) breaks up a pass intended for South Florida’s Amariri Jackson in the first quarter of action in Auburn on Saturday night.
“They have got a great team,” Groves said.

Groves added: “They made plays. You can’t take that away from them.”

Auburn got the ball first in overtime, starting at the 25-yard line. Running back Ben Tate, who had 61 yards on 14 carries, rushed for 2 yards. On second down, tight end Tommy Trott couldn’t pull in quarterback Brandon Cox’s pass.

Then on third down, Cox led receiver Robert Dunn too far on a slant pass across the middle that would have given the Tigers a first-and-goal inside the 5-yard line. Instead, the throw fell incomplete.

Freshman kicker Wes Byrum hit a low, line-drive 39-yard field to put the Tigers up 23-20.

South Florida had three straight running plays on its first overtime series that amassed 9 yards. On a fourth-and-one from the 16-yard line, Grothe snuck over center for the first down.

The next play brought the 82,617 in attendance to a dead silence, except for the few hundred USF fans who made the trek from Tampa, Fla.

Grothe found Hester for that 14-yard touchdown strike that gave the Big East Conference Bulls its first win over a Southeastern Conference team.

“I think we shot ourselves in the foot too much,” Groves said. “If we don’t do that, there are not many teams that can hold us.”

Auburn’s offense mirrored last week’s poor performance against Kansas State. The offense committed five turnovers, but the Tigers nearly escaped because of a stingy defense and four missed field goals by South Florida kicker Delbert Alvarado.

“You can’t win games like that,” Cox said. “I want to apologize to our defense. They did their part. Offensively, we didn’t.”

Three times during the third quarter Auburn’s defense stepped up.

On the first series following halftime, Cox lost control of a fourth-down sneak near midfield. South Florida recovered the fumble at its own 41.

Grothe led the Bulls down to the 20-yard line before a third-down pass came up short of the first-down marker. Alvarado hooked a 37-yard field goal attempt outside the uprights.

With three minutes left in the third quarter, South Florida failed to take advantage of a fumble by redshirt freshman Mario Fannin, who led the team with 62 rushing yards. The Bulls took over at the Auburn 21-yard line but could do little. Alvarado attempted a 45-yard field goal that also missed.

The Bulls were given another chance just second later when Fannin fumbled again into the awaiting hands of a defender. USF got the ball at the Auburn 23-yard line.

But again Auburn’s defense forced a three-and-out. This time, Alvarado’s 37-yard attempt was blocked by Auburn defensive end Sen’Derrick Marks, ending the third quarter.

“We should have moved the ball a lot better than that,” coach Tommy Tuberville said. “Our defense fought hard. We’ve got to get better offensively.”

After another Auburn three-and-out, the defense had to make one last stand midway through the fourth quarter. With the arm and legs of Grothe, South Florida moved into Auburn territory.

But Grothe’s third-down pass fell incomplete. Alvarado’s 38-yard field goal split the uprights, tying the score at 17 apiece.

On Auburn’s next play from scrimmage, Cox threw his pass into the waiting arms of South Florida cornerback Mike Jenkins. Jenkins returned it to the Auburn 3-yard line with 7:28 left in the game.

But the defense did it again. USF lost a yard on the next three plays and Alvarado missed a 21-yard field goal attempt that would have put the Bulls ahead.

Auburn started its drive after the missed field goal at the 20-yard line with six minutes left in the game. He moved the Tiger all the way down the field, but his third down pass was nearly intercepted, leading to the 46-yard field goal by Byrum, which gave Auburn a 20-17 lead.

But that wasn’t all.

South Florida returned the ensuing kickoff 59 yards down to the Auburn 32-yard line. With 2:40 left on the game clock, the Bulls started their drive.

Grothe completed a 17-yard pass to receiver Taurus Johnson down to the 9-yard line.

On third-and-goal, Grothe found Hester at the 2-yard line with 1:20 remaining. Alvarado hit the 19-yard field goal to tie the game at 20 with 55 seconds left.

Auburn’s first two series lasted just three plays each.

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