John Tidwell's 77-yard punt return for a touchdown coupled with another outstanding effort by the Cougar defense paved the way for No.22 USF (9-2, 6-2 NSIC) to post a 24-14 Senior Day victory against Wayne State College (6-5, 6-5 NSIC) before 2,004 fans at Bob Young Field.
"Statistics are a dime a dozen, things can go your way and can't," said senior quarterback Taylor Perkins who finished 27-for-47 for 267 yards. "All that matters at the end is getting the ‘W' and that's what we did today, so my goal was accomplished."
After a scoreless first quarter that saw both teams punt twice, it was sophomore defensive back Tidwell that opened scoring with a 77-yard punt return for a touchdown.
"That's why you call it a team; you have special teams that step up and the defense steps up; championship teams aren't one-sided," Perkins said. "They did a great job to help the offense get going and it was a great job on their part."
On the ensuing drive, the Wildcats drove the ball to their 48-yard line, but Brian Kent fumbled the ball and it was recovered by redshirt freshman Carter Ahlers. The teams again traded punts before Perkins orchestrated a drive for USF down to the WSC 24-yard line, but Austan Pomajzl picked him off in the end zone for a touchback that kept it a seven-point game. The turnover would do no harm, as the Wildcats stalled on the USF 40-yard line.
The Cougars were also forced to punt and the Wildcats finally broke through on the next drive, moving 29 yards on four plays to tie the game with an 18-yard strike from Brian Kent to Joe Trouba with less than a minute remaining in the half.
Perkins was just 12-for-23 in the first half and undoubtedly, he missed senior wideout Jeremiah Oates, sidelined today with a concussion suffered in last week's loss at No. 6 MSU-Mankato.
The Cougars received the kick-off to begin the third quarter and started at their own 30-yard line after a 30-yard return by Tidwell. They quickly moved into Wayne State territory but lost the ball on a Wildcat play when Nick Lewis intercepted Carrington Hanna on 1st-and-10 at the Wildcat 40. The Cougar defense put another bandage on a turnover by forcing the three-and-out.
Wayne State senior punter Randy Weich pinned the Cougars at the two-yard line with an 85-yard punt and they were forced to punt six plays later.
USF's defense came up huge on the Wildcats' next two possessions, as Kent was intercepted by both Ryan Graber and Eric Anderson. The Cougars broke up the tie with Anderson's pick, putting together a six play, 41-yard drive that was capped by a two-yard touchdown run by Perkins to make it a 14-7 game after Braden Wieking's extra point.
Wieking's 52-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter extended USF's lead to 17-7. Perkins then busted out of his passing funk with a 41-yard touchdown pass to senior Darren Neely with 6:17 left in the game.
The Wildcats posted a late touchdown but the Cougars would hold on for a 24-14 victory to improve to 42-1 overall at Bob Young Field.
Neely finished with 89 yards and one touchdown on seven catches. Senior Austin VanHove was Perkins' other top target for the second straight week, hauling in eight receptions for 82 yards.
The Cougars' running game was held in check by the NSIC's firth-best rushing defense, as they posted 93 yards on 38 attempts. Perkins scrambled for a team-best 45 yards on 11 carries with a score.
Wayne State averaged 33 points in its last three games, but had no luck containing a Cougar pass rush that recorded three sacks and limited the Wildcats to 71 yards on the ground. Wayne State was also hampered by three interceptions.
Tidwell led the defensive unit with eight tackles, two pass breakups and a sack, while senior linebacker Nick Bonte had seven tackles, two for a loss of nine yards and a sack. Senior safety Michael Frericks added seven tackles (1 TFL). Anderson finished with five tackles and a 23-yard interception. Robert Virgil tallied his seventh interception of the season and now has 12 picks in his two-year Cougar career.
Prior to the contest, USF honored its 25 seniors who played their final game at Bob Young Field. The Class of 2012 finished with an overall record of 42-7 (.857).
Courtesy: USF Athletics