TAMPA, Fla. -- Nate Godwin scored on a long blocked field goal return and DeDe Lattimore scooped up a fumble for another touchdown Saturday night to help South Florida begin American Athletic Conference play with a 26-20 victory over Cincinnati, which was playing for the first time since one of its players was killed in a car accident.
The Bearcats (3-2, 0-1) spent a difficult bye week grieving, attending red-shirt freshman Ben Flick's funeral and making hospital visits in addition to practicing. They were looking forward to playing a game to help things get back to normal.
Two hours before kickoff, the entire Cincinnati team gathered at the midfield at Raymond James Stadium, forming a circle around the USF logo to pray. A moment of silence in Flick's memory was observed before the opening kickoff. Two other players were injured in the wreck, and one of them remains hospitalized.
USF (1-4, 1-0) won for the first time under coach Willie Taggart, who left Western Kentucky after last season to take over a program that underachieved for much of the eight years it was a member of the Big East.
But with Cincinnati turning the ball over four times, missing an extra point and having a field goal blocked, USF's sputtering offense didn't need to get into the end zone to do its part.
Brendon Kay rallied Cincinnati from a 26-6 deficit with a pair of fourth-quarter touchdown passes. But USF's defense also rose to the occasion, clinging to a 13-point lead by stopping the Bearcats on downs at the Bulls' 10 with 6:45 remaining.
The car accident occurred on Sept. 21 while traveling back to Cincinnati from Oxford, Ohio, where the Bearcats had beaten Miami of Ohio earlier in the day.
The players were making the trip on their own because as redshirt freshmen, they didn't dress or travel with the team to the game.
The Bearcats got off to an encouraging start defensively Saturday night, forcing a fumble on the second play from scrimmage. But the offense was unable to take advantage, settling for a 40-yard field goal attempt that 6-foot-5 Mike McFarland leaped to block and the speedy Godwin ran back 75 yards to give USF a 7-0 lead.
It didn't get any easier the rest of the way.
USF scored on defense for the second week, with DeDe Lattimore scooping up Brendon Kay's fumble and returning it 10 yards for a touchdown that put the Bulls up 20-6 in the second quarter.
Kay completed 24 of 36 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns -- 22 yards to Mekale McKay in the second quarter, 27 yards to Chris Moore early in the fourth, and 15 yards to McKay to trim USF's lead to 26-20 with 2:03 left.