Tyler Bitancurt made a 28-yard field goal as time expired, and West Virginia defeated South Florida 30-27 Thursday night to keep its BCS hopes alive.
West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith converted a fourth-and-10 to wide receiver Stedman Bailey with 10 seconds remaining to put the Mountaineers in field goal range.
"I would rather win a blowout," Smith said. "It's just good to get a victory. We're never going to quit."
West Virginia will now hope for a Cincinnati victory over Connecticut on Saturday to earn a trip to its first BCS bowl game since 2007.
"I'm just extremely proud of them, and I'm obviously glad that we pulled it out and the way we pulled it out is just kind of who this team has become," said West Virginia first-year head coach Dana Holgorsen.
Both teams were able to move the ball offensively on their first possessions of the game, but neither manufactured points.
West Virginia had an opportunity to strike first late in the first quarter. Holgorsen opted to attempt a field goal on fourth-and-one at the South Florida 22-yard line. But, kicker Tyler Bitancurt struck the upright and the kick was no good.
After a South Florida punt was blocked by Willie Milhouse, Bitancurt got another opportunity. This time he redeemed himself and made a 23-yard field goal, and West Virginia led 3-0 early in the second quarter.
The West Virginia defense held strong in the first half. On the ensuing Bulls' possession, quarterback B.J. Daniels' pass was intercepted by West Virginia cornerback Pat Miller and returned 52 yards for a touchdown. The Mountaineers' lead was extended to 10-0 midway through the second quarter.
With its back against the wall, South Florida responded. Daniels found wide receiver Sterling Griffin for a 20-yard touchdown reception. Griffin made an impressive catch over Mountaineer cornerback Brodrick Jenkins, and the West Virginia lead was trimmed to 10-7 with five minutes remaining until halftime.
Bitancurt made a 42-yard field goal late in the first half, and the Mountaineers held a 13-7 lead at the half.
South Florida was able to take advantage of a fumble by West Virginia's Devon Brown with a 32-yard field goal from Maikon Bonani. The West Virginia lead was three, 13-10, early in the third quarter.
It appeared the Bulls had ceased the momentum. But, West Virginia's Tavon Austin returned the ensuing kickoff 90-yards for a touchdown. And all of a sudden, the Mountaineers led 20-10 with 10 minutes left in the third quarter.
"I give it to my blockers, that made me set it up," Austin said. "Coach had a good call, I hit the sideline, made a couple of moves and I was gone."
An interception thrown by West Virginia quarterback Geno Smith later in the third quarter led to another South Florida field goal. The Mountaineers held a 20-13 advantage entering the fourth quarter. Daniels anchored a 15-play 76-yard drive, and capped it off with a one-yard rushing touchdown to tie the game 20-20 with 10 minutes left to play.
Smith threw an interception on the first play of the next West Virginia possession, and South Florida's JaQuez Jenkins returned it for a touchdown. The Bulls had their first lead of the night, 27-20
Holgorsen gave South Florida's defense credit for forcing mistakes.
"Defensive line wise, they spent a lot of time in our backfield and that really changes how I call things compared to the way I've done it in the past," Holgorsen said. "But give our guys credit for hanging in there and just continuing to play."
On its most important drive of the season, West Virginia drove 77 yards on 11 plays. Running back Dustin Garrison scored from five yards out, and the game was tied 27-27 with five minutes left to play.
The Bulls appeared to be setting up a field goal attempt, but a fumble gave the ball back to the Mountaineers with two minutes remaining.
Geno Smith completed a pass to Stedman Bailey with three seconds remaining on fourth down to set up the Bitancurt field goal.
Bitancurt made the kick from the left hash, and West Virginia won 30-27.
Garrison carried the ball 16 times for 87 yards and a touchdown. Garrison feels recent close games prepared the Mountaineers for tonight's nail-biter.
"We've done it so many times in the past that we know what we're capable of doing and we know how to do it," he said.