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USF weathers storm, stuns No. 16 Notre Dame 23-20, giving Holtz an upset in return to So Bend
SOUTH BEND, Ind. (AP) ' Kayvon Webster returned a fumble 96 yards for an early touchdown as South Florida came to Notre Dame for the first time and stunned the 16th-ranked Irish 23-20 Saturday in a game disrupted for hours because of storms.
USF coach Skip Holtz got an emotional victory in his return to Notre Dame, where he went to school and where his dad Lou led the Irish to their last national title in 1988.
Webster's long return for a score four minutes into the game took all the momentum from the Irish and they couldn't recover. It came after Notre Dame took the opening kickoff and drove to the USF 1.
What followed was a nightmare first half that included two fumbles, a holding penalty that nullified a Cierre Wood TD run and then an interception of Dayne Crist by USF's Devekeyan Lattimore in the end zone that turned the Irish away.
Maikon Bonani kicked three field goals and the Bulls had a 16-0 halftime lead.
Then things got even stranger.
With the crowd getting restless over Notre Dame's erratic play as the teams left the field for halftime, and with lightning flashing near the stadium, officials asked fans to evacuate Notre Dame Stadium and decided to keep the teams in their locker rooms.
They stayed there for 2 hours, 10 minutes, sitting through a couple of bands of violent storms. When the Irish finally emerged, they had switched quarterbacks from Crist to Tommy Rees, who led them to four straight victories as the starter at the end of last season. Crist was 7-of-15 for 85 yards.
The game was delayed a second time by severe weather with 4:21 to go and after a 43-minute delay, Jerrell Young intercepted Rees ' Notre Dame's fifth turnover of the game.
Rees threw an 8-yard TD pass to Michael Floyd to cap a 99-yard drive with 21 seconds left as the Irish closed to 23-20. But USF recovered an onside kick and ran out the clock. Rees went 24-for-34 for 296 yards.
With the delays, the game lasted 5 hours, 59 minutes.
Rees also hit Floyd with a scoring pass in the third quarter and Cierre Wood's 1-yard scoring run with 7:35 left made it 23-13 before the Irish failed to convert a 2-point attempt. Floyd, reinstated to the team last month following his suspension for drunken driving, made 12 catches and became the Irish's career leader in receptions, passing Jeff Samardzija (179). Floyd now has 183.
USF's B.J. Daniels completed 18-of-30 for 128 yards and also carried 12 times for a net of 37.
After a pass interference call in the end zone on Irish defensive back Gary Gray, Daniels threw a 2-yard TD pass to Evan Landi that opened up a 23-7 lead with 11 minutes left, capping a 14-play, 80-yard drive.
The Irish moved from the 20 to the South Florida 1 on the opening drive as Wood went 31 yards with a swing pass from Crist on the game's first scrimmage play and Floyd later grabbed a 26-yarder.
Wood had four carries for 21 yards to get the ball to the 1, but his backup Jonas Gray fumbled near the goal line as USF's Young stripped the ball. Webster picked it up and ran 96 yards down the sideline, a score upheld by video replay.
Bonani hit a 49-yarder to put the Bulls up 10-0 and then USF threatened to pull way ahead. After back-to-back facemask penalties on Notre Dame safety and captain Harrison Smith, the Bulls had a first down at the Irish 5.
But the Irish defense held and when Daniels was stopped on a third down from the 1 for no gain, the Bulls sent in Bonani for a 17-yarder that made it 13-0.
Notre Dame's mistakes continued to pile up. Wood's 14-yard TD run was nullified by a holding penalty on Floyd. The Irish then managed a first down at the USF 4 after a Crist keeper. But Wood was thrown for a loss, Webster broke up a pass intended for TJ Jones and then Kevekeyan Lattimore stepped in front of Theo Riddick to intercept in the end zone.
When Riddick fumbled a punt and Victor Marc recovered for USF, Bonani hit again from 36 yards out and the lead was 16-0.
After another Notre Dame series ended with an incomplete pass, coach Brian Kelly could be seen on the sidelines in an animated discussion with the struggling Crist. The fans were getting restless, too, with the Irish's poor play and the boos began to come out.
Once the half came to end, fans were told to leave the stadium because of lightning that could be seen flashing near the stadium. Some stayed in their seats for about 15 minutes instead of seeking shelter in nearby buildings. But then the rain came hard and the stadium was cleared out quickly.
Rees had a 15-yard pass to Floyd early in the third to put the ball at the 5, but once again the Irish couldn't convert. Rees' pass intended for TJ Jones hit the receiver and deflected in the air, resulting in an interception by South Florida's Michael Lanaris.
That sent Kelly into a rage on the sideline as he lectured Jones.
But on the next series, Rees hooked up tight end Tyler Eifert on a 37-yard pass and then hit Floyd for a 29-yard TD with 7:12 to go in the quarter, cutting the lead to 16-7.
Notre Dame's David Ruffer, who was 23-of-24 on field goals in his career, missed a 30-yard attempt later in the third quarter after Rees hit Riddick with a 27-yard pass and Floyd with one of 15.