PISCATAWAY, N.J. — Maikon Bonani leaned against the wall outside the room where his South Florida teammates were being interviewed and the redness in his eyes was clearly visible.
There were no tears but when he walked into the room, Bulls quarterback B.J. Daniels tapped him on the shoulder and offered support.
The gesture was appreciated but Bonani knew in his heart his missed 27-yard field goal on the final play of regulation was the major reason South Florida (4-4, 0-4 Big East) dropped a 20-17 overtime decision to Rutgers and saw its losing streak extend to four games.
"It's the worst pain I have ever felt," Bonani said of his miss and the ensuing result. "Last year I had a chance to win at Louisville at the end of regulation and I missed that one. I wouldn't say that kicking is you make some and miss some. That's true, but all I want to do in my eyes is make them all, and not doing so tonight hurts so much. I take so much pride in this. I look forward to kicking in practice, so it's tough. It's not easy."
Bonani's miss hurt even more after Duron Harmon intercepted a Daniels' pass to stop South Florida's possession in the overtime and the Scarlet Knights (6-3, 3-2 Big East) ran three plays before settling for San San Te's game-winning 37-yard field goal.
The win snapped Rutgers' two-game losing streak and made it bowl eligible after missing out last season with a 4-8 record.
"I forgot about that," Rutgers coach Greg Schiano said. "I was just so happy to win the game. It's great. Six times in seven years, I think, you know, ten years ago Rutgers people might have signed up for that. I understand my expectations are higher, but I'm happy we're going back to a bowl game. Wherever it is, I'm happy we're going."
Schiano made a key decision in the game, inserting Chas Dodd to replace freshman Gary Nova at the start of the fourth quarter. It worked out as Dodd threw a game-tying 34-yard touchdown pass to Brendan Coleman with 1:08 to play.
The game didn't look good for the Scarlet Knights after they fell behind 17-3 midway through the fourth quarter on a 4-yard run by Demetris Murray that capped an 89-yard drive.
However, Jeremy Deering returned the ensuring kickoff 98 yards to cut the gap to 17-10. It tied the third-longest kickoff return in school history.
Rutgers then tied the game with an 80-yard, 12-play drive that Dodd capped with his pass to Coleman. Dodd (11 of 17 for 125 yards) hit Mohamed Sanu seven times for 60 yards on the drive, including one spectacular one-handed, fourth down catch to keep the march alive.
South Florida had a chance to win the game in the waning seconds when Daniels hit Murray on a 34-yard pass and then ran 30 yards to give the Bulls a first-and-goal at the 10. But Bonani badly mishit a chip-shot 27-yard field goal on the final play of regulation and it went wide left forcing the overtime.
"The ball hit my foot and it's my job to put it through the uprights," Bonani. "I had an opportunity to win the game and I didn't. That solely rests on my shoulder. There are a bunch of plays in a football game, but for that one play it is my responsibility to do my job and I failed to do so tonight."
Daniels threw a 23-yard touchdown pass to Victor Marc and Bonani kicked a 43-yard field goal for South Florida in the first half.
Trailing 10-0 at the half, Rutgers got back in the game on a 33-yard field goal by Te after Pat Kivlehan recovered a fumble by Marc at the Bulls 12.
The defenses dominated the first half, with South Florida limiting Rutgers to 87 yards, including minus-4 yards rushing.
The game was scoreless until the Bulls tallied on their final two possessions of the half.
Daniels got the Bulls in gear with a 21-yard scamper on the first play of what turned out to be an eight-play, 58-yard touchdown drive. South Florida converted two third-and-short plays to keep the drive alive, and Daniels hit Marc on a middle screen from 23 yards out on a second-and-18 play on which Rutgers got caught in a blitz.
The Scarlet Knights were in position to get on the board on the next series when Nova hit Coleman for 30 yards to the Bulls 43. Rutgers eventually got the South Florida 33 but Nova was sacked on consecutive plays with defensive end Ryne Giddins forcing a fumble, recoving it and returning it near midfield.
After a couple of first downs for USF, Bonani kicked a 43-yard field goal with 36 seconds left in the half for a 10-0 lead.