USF's Charlie Strong: We wanted night to be 'special' for Irma victims

Flowers dazzles in USF victory (1:10)

Quinton Flowers tallies five touchdowns as No. 22 South Florida rolls past Illinois 47-23. (1:10)

TAMPA, Fla. -- South Florida rolled up nearly 700 yards on Illinois in a 47-23 win, and afterward, coach Charlie Strong said he and his players were determined to make Friday night special for all those impacted by Hurricane Irma.

Strong praised his team's resiliency after it played the game with just three practices during the week, but he also made sure to note there were more than 3,000 high school players and coaches and 2,100 first responders who attended the game for free, at his urging.

About the only downer Friday night was the cancellation of a pregame honor for first responders. A group of 20, largely from the Tampa Police Department, was set to run onto the field with the football team, but it didn't happen because of a weather delay.

"I'm very proud of this football team and just the way we came out and responded tonight," Strong said. "We wanted to make this night special. We felt we had a chance to give back to the city and give back to the state, and get everyone just a little sense of relief for a few hours."

USF was one of seven FBS programs in the state of Florida that had a game either canceled or postponed because of the devastating storm. After its scheduled game last week against UConn was postponed, Strong made sure his players either stayed in the university dorms, the on-campus football facility or with family in the area.

Strong was among many coaches and about 30 players who ended up staying inside the football facility, and they were thankful when the worst was over. Tampa didn't get as badly hit as other areas, including the Florida Keys, Naples, South Florida, Central Florida and Jacksonville. Because there was limited damage, he had his team together and Raymond James Stadium was available, USF decided to carry on with its game against Illinois.

The Bulls were unable to practice Monday. As a result, they had only three practices to get ready, including a full practice the day before the game. Quarterback Quinton Flowers had 386 yards and five touchdowns, while three different players rushed for 100 yards for the first time in school history.

"I was playing for my city and playing for the whole state of Florida, everybody who witnessed this Hurricane Irma," said D'Ernest Johnson, who had 101 yards rushing. "There was a lot of motivation."