MIAMI -- South Florida got two scares Saturday night, and survived both.
Mike Ford ran for two short touchdowns and the 12th-ranked Bulls spoiled FIU's debut in its new on-campus stadium, winning 17-9 in a game marred by a frightening scene involving Bulls starting linebacker Brouce Mompremier.
Mompremier was airlifted to a downtown Miami hospital after colliding with a teammate in the third quarter, but apparently escaped catastrophic injury.
He was expected to remain hospitalized overnight for tests and observation, but was regaining movement in his arms and legs. South Florida officials said Mompremier -- a Miami native who had family at the stadium for his homecoming -- was experiencing tingling in his neck and shoulders, and doctors at the stadium originally feared he suffered a spinal injury.
"I was going for the ball. He was going for the hit. His helmet hit my hip," said South Florida safety Carlton Williams, who was also shaken up on the play. "I was devastated -- but I felt better once I heard he was OK."
Matt Grothe completed 14 of 22 passes for 137 yards for South Florida (4-0), but was held without a passing or rushing touchdown for just the second time in his 30-game career. The Bulls led 17-0 with 2 1/2 minutes remaining, yet needed to recover an onside kick with 50 seconds left to hold off FIU (0-3), which came in as a four-touchdown underdog.
"We really, really played with everything we had," FIU coach Mario Cristobal said. "Effort was not questioned today."
FIU came in ranked last among all FBS schools in total offense (178.5 yards per game) and scoring (5.0), but got a 61-yard catch-and-run from Wayne Younger to T.Y. Hilton with 2:03 remaining, setting up Julian Reams' 1-yard TD run -- the Golden Panthers' first offensive touchdown this season.
South Florida's A.J. Love recovered the onside kick with 50 seconds left, and the Bulls held on.
"We played about as bad as we could have played," USF coach Jim Leavitt said. "I don't see how we could have played worse.
Mompremier got hurt with 6:43 left in the third quarter, remaining on the turf for about 20 minutes. Players from both teams met at midfield, kneeling for moment of prayer before Mompremier was driven off the field.
"He's a fierce competitor," USF linebacker Kion Wilson said. "I saw he didn't want to stay down, but as a safety precaution he was told to stay down."
USF's Jerome Murphy intercepted a pass on the first play after Mompremier's injury, and Ford rushed in from 1 yard out early in the fourth for a 17-0 lead that seemed safe.
Ford got tackled in the end zone for a safety with 2:20 left, and FIU then made it plenty interesting after Hilton -- who had the only other TD for FIU this season, a punt return in the opener against Kansas -- set up Reams' touchdown.
"We got the win," Grothe said, "but we should have played a lot better."
Amid all the opening-of-the-facility buzz, it didn't take long for South Florida to set a FIU Stadium record that'll never be broken -- a 99-yard scoring drive.
The Bulls fumbled the ball away on their first possession, started their second series on the USF 1, and needed 13 plays before Ford rushed in from 2 yards out for first points ever recorded at the stadium. FIU safety Jeremiah Weatherspoon forced the turnover on the opening drive and knocked the ball loose twice on the next drive as well, but USF kept possession and took the early lead.
From there, though, FIU's defense held tough, keeping the upset hope alive.
"We played with a lot of passion, a lot of energy that helped us out," Weatherspoon said. "We just made a few mistakes that cost us."
The stadium is on the same site as FIU's previous football home, a 7,000-seat facility that was more suited for high school games than big-time college football. The current structure -- which still lacks a scoreboard on one end, isn't yet enclosed on the visitors' side and will eventually have a massive field house attached to it -- was built in 16 months.
Building FIU into a winner is taking a bit longer.
The Golden Panthers have lost 25 of 26 games since the start of the 2006 season, but have long pointed to the opening of the stadium as the first significant step toward a turnaround. And recruits in talent-rich South Florida are quickly taking notice; a slew of players from the Miami area have already committed to enroll at FIU next fall, and plenty more attended the stadium's debut.
Hanging close to a nationally ranked team wasn't a consolation prize, Cristobal said.
"Our guys are as down as they can possibly be," Cristobal said. But it does say something. It does say that we can do some things that can make us have a successful season."
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