For the University of South Florida Bulls, there were plenty of emotional, teary-eyed locker-room scenes last season. The Bulls couldn't win the close ones, dropping five games by a total of 18 points, including three on the final play.
Saturday night, the Bulls again were weeping.
This time, there were tears of joy.
In perhaps the most improbable, heart-pounding, exciting finish in USF's 16-season football history, the Bulls scored two long touchdowns in the final 2:37. Senior quarterback B.J. Daniels' 56-yard pass to Andre Davis with 38 seconds remaining lifted USF to a jaw-dropping 32-31 victory against the Nevada Wolf Pack before 22,804 stunned fans at Mackay Stadium.
The Bulls (2-0 heading into Thursday night's Big East Conference opener against Rutgers) trailed 31-20 with just under three minutes to play. USF players said they never stopped believing.
"It's one win, just like if it had gone the other way, it's one loss," USF coach Skip Holtz said. "But it means a whole lot. I saw heart and desire and competitiveness. With two-and-a-half minutes to go, I heard guys on the sideline saying, 'Keep your heads up. We're going to win this thing. We've worked too hard to give up now.' I'm proud of the way they competed.''
Daniels had one of his finest hours.
Daniels was 22 of 40 for 363 yards and three touchdowns — 51 and 56 yards to Davis, then 52 yards to Chris Dunkley, the University of Florida transfer, with 2:37 remaining, a critical moment that fueled the comeback. In the fourth quarter alone, Daniels was 10 of 17 for 227 yards and two touchdowns.
"It means a lot," Daniels said. "It feels like a lot of weight off my shoulders. This team has gone through a lot. But we stuck together and it means a whole lot to do something like this."
Davis, the sophomore from Jefferson High, set USF single-game records for receptions (12) and receiving yards (191). In the fourth quarter, he had five catches for 101 yards.
Meanwhile, it was retribution for USF's defense, which allowed Nevada to break out 21-6. The Wolf Pack (1-1) gained 228 yards in the first quarter — the largest one-quarter total ever surrendered by a USF defense.
Overall, USF's defense allowed 549 yards to Nevada. But it forced four fumbles and recovered three, including one at USF's 1-yard line as the Wolf Pack appeared to be going in for a touchdown and another on the game's final play, when Bulls defensive end Tevin Mims sacked and stripped Nevada quarterback Cody Fajardo, allowing Julius Forte to recover it on USF's 48-yard line as time expired.
Fajardo, a sophomore who led Nevada's opening-game win upset of California, was 27 of 38 for 271 yards. He also rushed 18 times for 134 yards and two touchdowns.
"Wow, that kid is gritty," USF senior middle linebacker Mike Lanaris said. "Wow, that kid is good."
After the first quarter, though, USF's defense was much more effective.
"As a coach, you've got to keep the faith, you've got to find a way — and we did," USF defensive coordinator Chris Cosh said. "We've got a lot to correct, but it's a lot easier to correct things when you win. I saw a lot of intangible things we can build on."
The defense did just enough. And that gave USF's offense, which gained 572 yards to tie for fifth on the school's all-time list, the opportunity to win it.
With Nevada leading 31-20, the Bulls stopped Kolby Arendse for a 3-yard gain on fourth-and-4. Nevada punted to the USF 20 and the Bulls immediately mounted a seven-play, 80-yard drive as Daniels found Dunkley open on a post pattern from 52 yards away. The 2-point conversion pass failed and Nevada led 31-26 with 2:37 remaining.
Maikon Bonani's onside kick attempt was smothered by Nevada.
And that was that.
Or so it seemed.
Nevada went ultra-conservative, running three times into the middle, and Stefphon Jefferson was throttled for no gain on third-and-2. Chase Tenpenny's punt was downed at USF's 8-yard line.
Time remaining – 1:38.
The Bulls were out of timeouts.
"All I can say about B.J. is he's a natural-born leader," Davis said. "He played 100 percent down to the last snap.''
"We've been through the highs and the lows," Daniels said. "This was one to remember. It's just one game, but it was a special one.''
USF's tears of joy were evidence of that.