Football: UCF 62, UConn 17

Football: UCF 62, UConn 17

Playing at home as a ranked team for the second time in school history, No. 21/25 UCF scored its most points in a conference game by taking out UConn in a 62-17 victory Saturday at Bright House Networks Stadium that allowed the Knights to again become bowl eligible.

It was the first American Athletic Conference game at Bright House Networks Stadium, and the Knights (6-1, 3-0 The American) did not disappoint, registering 45 points in the opening half, scoring on their first nine possessions and finishing with 527 total yards of offense. The 2013 team became just the second ever at UCF (1988) to score at least 20 points in its first seven outings.

The 62 points for the Knights against the Huskies (0-7, 0-3) were the eighth most in UCF history. The Knights, who entered the top 25 following last Friday’s thrilling 38-35 win at No. 8/6 Louisville, forced four turnovers and limited the Huskies to only 91 yards on the ground.

“I challenged the kids all week to stay hungry and get after the game,” UCF head coach George O’Leary said. “I thought we went out there and did a really good job in the first half. We were productive on offense and on defense. I challenged them to think of it as six championship games. Today was one, now you have five left. Each week, you have to treat it like a championship game.”

In less than three quarters of work, Blake Bortles set a career-high with four touchdown passes, the most in a game since Ryan Schneider had four vs. Ohio Nov. 30, 2002. Bortles completed his day 20-of-24 for 286 yards with four touchdowns. UCF alum and current Chicago Bears star Brandon Marshall was in attendance and watched Bortles throw a pair of scoring tosses to Jeff Godfrey, who also added a late touchdown reception to become the first Knight since Marshall in 2005 to score three times in a game via the air.

“Blake did a great job finding me and the o-line did a great job blocking,” Godfrey said. “I am getting better every day in practice, just going out there and getting open and making plays for the team.”

Receiving the kickoff for the 13th straight game, UCF immediately marched down the field with a 7-play, 60-yard drive thanks to five methodical rushes and one completion. The Knights capped it off when Storm Johnson bounced off a pair of would-be tacklers to get to the outside and easily jogged into the endzone from 10 yards out for a 7-0 lead.

Little did anyone know what was about to happen the rest of the first half.

UConn tried to answer on its first drive, highlighted by a 57-yard rush from Lyle McCombs, which was the longest UCF had given up all season. That set up a 40-yard field goal by Chad Christen. But not backing down, the Knights used a long play of their own with a 50-yard strike from Bortles to Breshad Perriman to return to the redzone. Three players later, Bortles escaped pressure in the backfield and scampered his way to a 10-yard touchdown run and a 14-3 lead early in the first quarter.

“We were definitely in sync as a unit and we moved the ball down the field and executed,” Bortles said. “I think as a unit, we were feeling (great) and we were able to execute what we were doing.”

The Huskies defense had little time to rest after UCF forced a 3-and-out. Following a 26-yard punt return by J.J. Worton, the offense again had little trouble padding to its lead. Ultimately on 3rd-and-goal from the 7-yard line, Bortles saw a blitz coming from the left side, spun away and hit an open Johnson running toward the endzone for a 21-3 cushion with 13 seconds remaining in the first quarter.

UCF looked to be in control until a UConn punt bounced off a Knight and the Huskies were able to recover on the UCF-24. The visitors converted the turnover into points by way of a McCombs 9-yard touchdown run.

Now holding a 21-10 advantage in the second quarter, the Black and Gold once again got on the scoreboard, this time on a career-long 50-yard field goal by Shawn Moffitt. The momentum stayed with the Knights as Terrance Plummer continued his impressive season on the ensuing UConn possession, stripping quarterback Tim Boyle on 3rd-and-9 as he was about to send the ball downfield. With the ball destined to hit the ground, Troy Gray came flying in for a diving interception.

Taking over at the UConn-31 with the pick, UCF needed just three plays to bring it to 31-10 as receiver Rannell Hall notched his first rushing touchdown of his career on a 17-yard burst with 4:17 to play in the half. A little more than three minutes later, Bortles went 4-for-4 for 44 yards during his drive and found a wide open Godfrey in the left corner of the endzone, bolstering the lead to 38-10.

UCF finally put an end to the first half, taking a Sean Maag interception and turning it into another seven points with the second Bortles-to-Godfrey connection, a 9-yard strike for the 45-10 halftime mark. Bortles wrapped up the opening stanza by going 19-for-23 with 225 yards, three touchdown passes and a touchdown run as UCF amassed its most points in any half since 50 in the first half against Akron Nov. 3, 2001.

“I thought we needed to get out there and score early, just so you don’t give them any breath of fresh air,” O’Leary said. “We did what we needed to do on the first drive, we took it down and scored and were very efficient.”

Not wanting to let up on the gas, the Knights’ first offensive possession of the second half provided the home fans even more to cheer about when Worton snagged a pass from Bortles, broke two tackles on the 50 and sprinted home for his longest reception of his career, a 61-yard touchdown to bring it to 52-10.

“We are trying to keep our foot on the gas pedal,” Godfrey said. “I think we did a great job, coming back home, putting on a great show for the fans.”

After UConn’s third turnover which saw Michael Easton pop the ball loose out of McCombs’ arms and Maag recover, true freshman Justin Holman entered his second career game as the UCF quarterback. He promptly led it on a drive where Moffitt closed it out on a 35-yard field goal. That moved the junior to a perfect 9-for-9 on the season.

“It is not just me, it is really the whole defense,” Maag said of the takeaways. “Every week, we are trying to get at least four turnovers as a defense.”

The Knights would utilize the situation to bring in several more players off the bench, giving them much-needed playing time since UCF’s last four games were decided by seven points or less. And the defense would be tested in the third as the Huskies began a drive on their own 20 only to reach the UCF-2. Following a false start, UConn went for it on fourth down and Casey Cochran’s pass fell incomplete to keep it at 55-10.

However the Huskies attempted another drive on the young defense now in the game, and this time succeeded on a 46-yard touchdown pass from Cochran to Brian Lemelle with 10:11 remaining in the game. Holman found Godfrey for a 5-yard scoring strike with 2:50 left in the contest.

Riding a three-game winning streak, UCF now enters its third and final bye week of the season before it hosts Houston Saturday, Nov. 9, to cap off Homecoming week. Game time is slated to be announced on Monday. Tickets are available by calling 407-UCF-1000 or by visiting UCFKnights.com