USF won the toss and elected to receive, and then D’Ernest Johnson returned the kickoff from the end zone 46 yards to give the Bulls great starting field position. However, they were unable to capitalize and turned the ball over on downs without out picking up a single first down.
The Gamecocks opening possession didn’t go exactly as they scripted either. Just three plays into their drive, quarterback Jake Bentley was intercepted by Devin Abraham. Then it took USF just 7 plays before they found the end zone on a 4-yard TD run by Flowers. They then elected to go for two, making it 8-0 with 10:25 left in the 1st quarter.
After a punt from the Gamecocks on the ensuing possession, the Bulls got right back to work. They put together a prolific 4 minute and 26 second drive that went 80 yards in 11 plays and was yet again capped off by a 4 yard rushing TD by Flowers to make it 15-0 USF.
After another lackluster of South Carolina possession, USF went right back to work. This time they again put together a great drive, getting into South Carolina’s territory. However, on a 3rd and 7 from the South Carolina 32-yard line, Mitch Wilcox fumbled the ball, and it then was recovered by the Gamecocks.
Then Jake Bentley and South Carolina struck fast, going 81 yards in just four plays as Bentley connected with Hayden Hurst for a 25-yard touchdown. This made it 15-7 and put the Gamecocks on the board for the first time.
The Bulls then answered, putting together a 10-play 77 -yard drive together to regain their 15 point lead as Flowers rushed for his Birmingham Bowl record 3rd rushing TD of the game. Then South Carolina went back to work.
Once again able to get deep in USF territory, it was looking like we were going to have an ole fashioned shootout. However, on 4th and 2 from the Bulls 12-yard line, the Gamecocks elected to go for it and were unable to convert. This gave it back to the Bulls, but they were unable to move the ball and were forced to punt.
After a quick three and out by the Bulls, South Carolina struck again. This time it was on a 10 play 73-yard drive that was capped off on a 3 yard TD connection from Bentley to Deboo Samuel to make it 22-14 with the Bull’s still out in front with just 1:12 left in the 1st half.
Then it was again the Quinton Flowers show. With just 17 seconds left on the clock, USF called a timeout to think over what to do on a 4th and 3 from the South Carolina 17-yard line. The timeout paid off, as Flowers found D’Ernest Johnson over the middle for a 37-yard TD completion with just 7 seconds left on the clock. This gave the Bulls a 29-15 lead going into the lockerroom at the half.
Halfway through, USF quarterback Quinton Flowers was putting on a show. He had 200 yards passing and 1 TD through the air, along with 67 yards rushing and the three rushing TDs.
With the way the USF offense moved the ball in the 1st half, it was imperative that South Carolina came out in the second half and started strong. That’s exactly what they did, opening the second half with and 8 play 65-yard drive that was capped off with a 4 yard rushing TD to make it 29-21. Thus cutting USF’s lead to just 8 with 11:55 left in the 3rd quarter.
USF’s first possession of the second half stalled out in the redzone and they would have to settle for a 21-yard field goal from Brandon Behr. On South Carolina’s ensuing possession the Bulls defense came up huge. It was on a 3rd and 17 for the Gamecocks on their own 30-yard line when Tajee Fullwood picked off Jake Bentley in full stride and took the package 37 yards to pay dirt for the score. This made it 39-21 with 7:06 left in the 3rd.
It looked as if USF was going to paste the Gamecocks the rest of the way. However, on the ensuing kickoff, the Bulls elected to kick it onside, and they did not recover it as the ball came about 8 inches short of making the 10 yards required on an onside kick. After that, it was pretty remarkable what happened.
South Carolina drove the ball all the way down to the 2-yard line before fumbling it and giving it back to the Bulls. USF then went three and out on their next possession, but still held an 18 point lead with just 1:54 left to play in the 3rd. However, being backed up, the Bulls had to punt from their own endzone and this allowed for a great field position for the Gamecocks as 154 yards to the Chris Lammons returned it 14 yards to the USF 27 yard line.
Three plays later and no production from South Carolina, they had to settle for a 43-yard field goal to make it a 15 point game with 22 seconds left in the 3rd. Then a near flawless performance from USF’s Quinton Flowers ended as he threw a deep pass that was picked off. This Gave USC the ball back at their own 23-yard line.
9 plays, 77 yards and 4 minutes and 14 seconds later, Jake Bentley found Bryan Edwards in the back of the endzone for a 9 yard TD score to make it 39-31 with 9:41 left in regulation. USF’s next drive ended in a punt after just 1 first down and the Gamecocks had the ball with 6:33 left to play and just down 1 score.
However, after getting down to the USF 8 yard line, South Carolina running back A.J. Tuner fumbled the ball and the Bulls took back over with just 4:14 left to play and the lead still intact. Then once again, USF’s offense was unable to get anything going. They were forced into a 3 and out, forcing another punt. Once again, the USF special teams struggled to protect on the return, and USC’s Chris Lamons returned it 39 yards to the USF 2 yard line with just 2:56 left to play.
Three plays later A.J. Turner ran it in for the score to make it a two point game. The Gamecocks then went for two and Bentley connected with Hayden Hurst in the back of the end zone to tie the game up at 39 with just 1:11 left on the clock.
USF wasn’t able to move the ball on their next possession as time ran out and the game went into overtime. That’s when Quinton Flowers got his magic back.
USF got the ball first and on the first play of the overtime, Flowers found Elkanah Dillon in the back of the end zone for a 25-yard TD score to put the Bulls back on top 46-39.
Then it was the Gamecocks turn and the USF defense was not going to let the game slip away from them again. South Carolina was facing a 4th and 6 from the USF 8 yard line with the game on the line.
The Bulls defense got penetration through the USC offensive line almost immediately and Mike Love sacked Jake Bentley as he fumbled and it was recovered by USF’s Khalid McGee to seal the deal and give the Bulls the 2016 Birmingham Bowl Championship.
For MVP Quinton Flowers it was about proving to others that he was a great quarterback, even though others continued to doubt him through his career, “A lot of people didn’t give me a chance coming out of high school but when I got here there were a lot of guys like Tajee Fullwood, Marlon Mack, Rodney Adams, guys that really believed in me and had my back. I felt like it was the time, I’ve been stepping up all year and now was the time when this team needed me. Tajee Fullwood came to me and he told me that he had his end if I would do my part. That means a lot coming from him, to come and tell me let’s me know he believes in me and I went out there and did what I normally do.”
The 11 wins set the new mark of excellence for the USF program and will make the expectations for new head coach Charlie Strong high as he takes over the program that former coach Willie Taggart and the Bulls players made come from out of the depths of despair. The Bulls now look ahead to the 2017 season and we can only speculate, but bets are on that they have their eyes set on a New Years Six Bowl.