BIRMINGHAM, Ala. — Quinton Flowers’ record-setting career ended with the dynamic South Florida quarterback providing big play after big play.
It also ended with him hoisting the Birmingham Bowl trophy after his 26-yard touchdown pass to Tyre McCants provided the game-winning points with 16 seconds left in a 38-34 victory over Texas Tech.
“The thing about it, this is a very resilient group of guys,” said USF head coach Charlie Strong. “You saw today. They were down. Five times we had to come back and go win this football game.”
The winning touchdown came 1:15 after Texas Tech quarterback Nic Shimonek gave the Red Raiders a 34-31 lead with a 25-yard scoring toss to T.J. Vasher.
It was that kind of second half.
The game-winning drive began at the Bulls 25-yard line and Flowers had a hand in the entire drive. He had scrambles of 13 and 19 yards to keep the drive moving and hit an open Brady to provide the game-winning points.
“I told myself, I got to hit my guys in the chest and just give them a chance,” said Flowers, who was the MVP both times in back-to-back Birmingham Bowl victories. “Tyre did what he’s supposed to do, I did what I’m supposed to do and we came out with the victory.”
Flowers finished with 417 yards in total offense (106 rushing, 311 passing) and accounted for five touchdowns.
“He’s special,” said Texas Tech safety Jah’Shawn Johnson. “He can beat you on his feet, beat you in the air. We saw on film all month, he’s making guys miss and getting out of the pocket, extending plays for his team. That’s what he did today. Credit to him.”
Shimonek was pretty good, too. He threw for 416 yards and three touchdowns and made some key throws on the late drive that culminated with the go-ahead touchdown. But it turned out to be the Bulls’ day.
“You got to give South Florida a lot of credit,” said Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury. “That’s a very good quarterback and a very good team. They’ve won a lot of games in the last two years. They found a way to win when they had to.”
Texas Tech (6-7) controlled a large portion of the first half, outgaining the Bulls 249-130 but the teams went into halftime tied 10-10.
Texas Tech took a 10-3 lead late in the first quarter on a 5-yard strike from Shimonek to Keke Coutre, who had six first-half catches for 97 yards and finished with 11 catches for 187 yards.
Texas Tech threatened again late in the half but a promising drive ended when USF safety Jaymon Thomas intercepted a tipped pass in the end zone and returned it to the 18-yard line.
The Bulls managed to tie the score with just under a minute left on a two-play drive that was set up by a shanked 15-yard punt by Texas Tech’s Dominic Panazzolo. The Bulls covered the 25 yards in two plays with the touchdown coming on a 21-yard pass from Flowers to McCants.
Texas Tech took advantage of a turnover on the opening possession of the second half to retake the lead. Six plays after a DeMarcus Fields fumble recovery, Shimonek found Dylan Cantrell for a 3-yard scoring toss to give the Red Raiders a 17-10 lead.
It didn’t take long for USF (10-2) to answer. The Bulls moved 91 yards on the ensuing possession, with Flowers capping off the march with a 17-yard scoring toss to Darnell Salomon. Texas Tech had a third-down pass interference call that extended the drive two plays before the touchdown.
Once again, a USF turnover turned into a Texas Tech touchdown. Red Raiders safety Vaughnte Dorsey stripped the football from Salomon and recovered at the USF 40-yard line. Justin Stockton raced 24 yards on the next play and Tre King scored from 4 yards out to give the Red Raiders a 24-17 lead.
The Red Raiders’ defense made fourth-down stops on the next two series, the second time coming inside the 1-yard line. The Bulls drove 90 yards on that second possession with D’Ernest Johnson eventually moving the ball inside the 1-yard with a 9-yard run. However, the Red Raiders stuffed Darius Tice on the next play to preserve the lead.
The Bulls finally found their way into the end zone on their next possession. Flowers accounted for 29 yards passing on the 43-yard drive and capped it with a scamper around right end from the 5-yard line to tie the game 24-24 with 9:30 left.
The go-ahead field goal came at the end of a 13-play, 60-yard drive that included 36 passing yards by Shimonek. Clayton Hatfield eventually capped it with 33-yard field goal with 5:02 left.
Two plays later, Flowers and Marquez Valdes-Scantling hooked up for a 64-yard touchdown pass that gave USF a 31-27 lead with 4:26 left. Eight plays and just under three minutes later, Shimonek gave the Red Raiders a 34-31 advantage on the 25-yard scoring toss to a wide open Vasher.
USF linebacker Auggie Sanchez knew what was coming.
“He’s gonna go score,” Sanchez said of his mindset at the point. “That’s kind of the thought. Quinton is Quinton. He made some spectacular plays, Tyre made an awesome catch and that was the ball game.”
NOTES: USF is 28-6 since QB Quinton Flowers took over full-time against Syracuse on Oct. 10, 2015 in a 45-24 win. The Bulls averaged 40.4 yards per game during that stretch. ... USF defensive lineman Deadrin Senat had three sacks in the game ... Flowers became the AAC’s all-time career leader in total offense on his first-half touchdown pass. Flowers had 11,385 yards coming into the game. The previous mark was 11,431 yards, set by Temple’s Phillip Walker.