for this game

South Florida comes up short, loses third straight

Nov 4, 2007 - 2:39 AM TAMPA, Florida (Ticker) -- A return home didn't do struggling South Florida any good.

Cincinnati scored 31 points in the first quarter and held on for a 38-33 victory over No. 20 South Florida on Saturday in a Big East Conference matchup.

Two weeks ago, the Bulls were the toast of college football and ranked second in the polls. With this loss, coach Jim Leavitt's squad will exit them.

The Bulls (6-3, 1-3 Big East) were ranked second in the country when they fell, 30-27, to Rutgers on October 18. South Florida then visited Connecticut and was unable to return to its winning ways last week, coming up short in a 22-15 loss.

Like USF, Cincinnati (7-2, 2-2) got off to a 6-0 start before dropping its next two games to Louisville and Pittsburgh.

The Bearcats and Bulls both scored touchdowns on defense and special teams in a wild first quarter. Cincinnati was also able to add a field goal and two TD passes by Ben Mauk to take a 31-14 lead.

"I'm really proud of our football team, really proud of them. I'm really proud of the way they fought and battled until the very end," Leavitt said. "Too many mistakes we know that."

South Florida outscored Cincinnati, 13-0, in the second half but it was not enough. A TD pass by Matt Grothe to Jessie Hester from eight yards out made it 38-33 with 2:08 to play.

The Bulls went for two and didn't make it and then tried an onside kick and just missed recovering it. The Bearcats were then able to run the clock down to 29 seconds - they almost left the Bulls too much time.

Cincinnati tried a fake field goal that went nowhere and South Florida took over at its 39. Grothe completed consecutive passes for 20 and 23 yards to give the Bulls a first down at the Bearcats' 18 with eight seconds remaining.

Grothe threw one up in the right corner of the end zone that Marcus Edwards got two hands on, but could not bring down. On the final play of the game, Grothe looked for Hester in the back of the end zone but the pass fell incomplete.

"It wasn't your typical game - we said it was going to be exciting," Cincinnati coach Brian Kelly said. "We certainly are not cookie cutter when it comes to the game of football. If you like exciting football, if you like it coming down to the last play, that's what happened today. The story for me is our defense was put in a tough situation in the second half and really did a great job forcing eight turnovers."

It was almost an improbable ending to a rough day for Grothe, who has made a number of big plays for South Florida over the past two seasons - but made too many mistakes on Saturday. He threw four interceptions and lost a fumble while completing 31-of-54 passes for 382 yards.

"The way the defense fought the second half to hold that group down, to shut them out the second half, despite all the turnovers, is really something," Leavitt said. "But the offense kept fighting too. You just can't turn the ball over that many times and expect to win. It's amazing that we were in it with the turnovers that we had."

Mauk was 13-of-31 for 161 yards. He threw three TD passes and an interception and added 77 yards rushing on seven carries for Cincinnati, which is 7-2 for the first time since 1976.

"It keeps us in the hunt and keeps us alive and we have to come back and play great football within the next few weeks in order to go to a BCS bowl," Mauk said. "We need to take it one game at a time. Our next two games are at home at Nipper Stadium and we just need to go back home, play some football, and win these next two games."