Holding a slight 31-26 edge that the Bulls had slowly been erasing away through the course of the game, Nevada had the ball at midfield with 2:37 remaining in the game. After three dives up the middle were called in order to force South Florida to use its timeouts, the Wolf Pack was left with a decision to make with the game on the line. Staring at a 4th-down-and-2 and just under two minutes to play, and having already converted a pair of fourth down attempts earlier in the contest, the Wolf Pack elected to play it safe and punt the ball away rather than go for the chance to put the game on ice with a first down. Unfortunately for Nevada, USF took full advantage of if its last-minute opportunity.
Standing in the pocket with no pressure, South Florida quarterback B.J. Daniels hit wide receiver Andre Davis on a 56-yard touchdown bomb down the left sideline to cap the Bulls’ 15-point comeback with 0:38 on the clock for a 32-31 victory.
“I go back to the offense. We’re counting on the offense to keep the ball and to get a first down. They onside kicked it and we get good field position and we need two first downs and we didn’t get them…Our offense boggled down in the second half with inconsistencies,” Nevada coach Chris Ault said. “We had some nice opportunities and didn’t take advantage of them. The last drive we felt comfortable with what we were doing, we just couldn’t get it done. They still had to go 92 yards to score and beat you and we let them do it. They made it and we didn’t.
“We moved the ball well, but the times we shut down were timely times when we needed to keep the defense off the field. That last one you just need two first downs. There’s no excuse. We had our chances. They just found a way to win at the end.”
Nevada opened the game with little troubles producing on the offensive side of the ball. Scoring on its first three possessions, the Wolf Pack jumped out to a 21-6 lead in the first quarter and looked to be hitting on all cylinders.
After exploding for 21 points and compiling 228 total yards in the first 15 minutes, the Wolf Pack offense hit a snag.
“It was just execution,” Nevada QB Cody Fajardo said. “We found ourselves in a few third-and-longs and had a couple incompletion on big downs. I put that on me. We really struggled. We stalled and started losing momentum and guys started getting discouraged.”
The Silver and Blue had a trio of three-and-outs as well as a fumble in its last four possessions of the first half, totaling 82 yards in the second quarter. The lackluster performance allowed USF to temporarily cut into the Wolf Pack lead, leaving the scoreboard reading 21-13 at the intermission.
South Florida picked up where it left off following halftime as it marched down the field en route to a 35-yard scamper to the end zone by running back Lindsey Lamar to bring the score to 21-20 with 12:56 to play in the third quarter.
Looking to cure its ailing offense, Nevada sustained a long drive all the way down to the goal line before misfortune again bit the Pack.
Taking a second-and-goal handoff from the 1-yard line, Wolf Pack running back Nick Hale lost the ball on a dive attempt and South Florida recovered. Possession of the ball traded hands three times before the Wolf Pack returned to the end zone for the first time since the opening quarter as Fajardo kept the ball on a read option run and bolted for a 14-yard score. At the end of the third, Nevada held a 28-20 advantage. A 35-yard field goal from Allen Hardison pushed the lead to 31-20 at the 8:16 mark of the fourth.
The 11-point Nevada edge remained with less than five minutes left in the contest, but two South Florida deep balls quickly changed that.
With 2:37 on the game clock and standing at midfield, Daniels threw up what was essentially a jump ball. Running under the ball like an outfield ranging back for a fly ball, USF wide receiver Chris Dunkley hauled in a 52-yard catch for a touchdown to make it a one score ball game at 31-26.
A failed onside attempt gave Nevada the chance to cut the Bulls’ comeback bid short and seal its victory, but the Wolf Pack faltered. Running just three plays for eight yards and milking less than a minute off the clock, Nevada handed the ball back to USF and watched helplessly as the Bulls stole the victory.
Daniels finished the game 22-of-40 and three touchdowns with 363 yards in the air, 227 of which came in the final quarter. Fajardo threw for 271 yards on 27-of-38 attempts and a score.
Stefphon Jefferson led the Wolf Pack in rushing, grabbing 135 yards on the ground on 30 carries. Fajardo was close behind, running for 134 yards on 18 carries and a score.
“We had our opportunities. It’s not like we didn’t have our chances,” Ault said. “The No. 1 turning point in my mind was our fumble on the 1-yard line going in. Defensively, they hit us for those long passes just one-on-one. The last one was a zone cover with a safety over the top and (Daniels) just hung it up there and (Davis) just ran under it and made the play and we didn’t. It’s disappointing. There’s no question about it. I can’t put it any other way. The kids are disappointed. We have to find a way to rally the troops.”