South Florida scored a touchdown with 4:12 left in the game and completed the two-point conversion to take a 27-24 lead. But Cardinals junior quarterback Keith Wenning then orchestrated a 10-play, 75-yard drive and put Ball State back on top with a 19-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Willie Snead.
Eric Patterson intercepted a B.J. Daniels pass on the final play to seal the win over his hometown team from Tampa, Fla.
Ball State's offense managed 413 yards on the day. Snead had a career-high 11 receptions for 135 yards and the game-winning score, while Wenning threw for 244 yards (24-of-36 passing) and two touchdowns.
The Cardinals opened the second half off with a Wenning touchdown on a 1-yard quarterback sneak that gave Ball State a 17-9 advantage. It was the sixth rushing touchdown of his career and first of the season.
USF kicked a field goal on its next possession, but Wenning then found senior wide receiver Jamill Smith for a five-yard touchdown pass that made it a 24-12 contest with 3:14 remaining in the third quarter.
USF closed the quarter with a touchdown pass from Daniels to Andre Davis to cut Ball State's lead to 24-19. After the Cardinals punted on their first possession of the fourth quarter, USF drove 99 yards and took its first lead since the first quarter at 27-24 after another Daniels touchdown pass and a two-point conversion.
Wenning then drove the Cardinals down the field for the game-winning score in the closing minutes for the second week in a row. The Cardinals defeated Indiana last week on a last-second field goal that followed another dramatic catch by Snead.
Ball State held a 10-9 halftime lead, scoring in the first half on a Steven Schott field goal and a Jahwan Edwards touchdown run. USF also kicked a first-half field goal and scored a touchdown on a Daniels pass to Lindsey Lamar. The Cardinals blocked the Bulls' extra point after that score.
Ball State is now off to a 3-1 start for the second straight year. The Cardinals will return to Mid-American Conference action next Saturday when they travel to Kent State for a noon kickoff.