The UCF football team’s quest to become the first three-time Conference USA Champion took a step in the right direction Thursday night as it topped East Carolina, 40-20. In front of a national TV audience, the Knights (3-2, 1-0) were victors in their third-straight C-USA opener.
After trailing 14-0 early in the first quarter, UCF outscored the Pirates (3-3, 2-1), 40-6, thanks in large part to hometown speedster Quincy McDuffie. The senior from Edgewater High School did it all for the Knights, including a 99-yard kickoff return and 64-yard reception, both for touchdowns, to ignite the sidelines in the win.
“The call (on the kick) was to go right, but they sky-kicked away from Rannell Hall, and when they kicked it, I hit the seam and every one was wedged in so tight. I put my foot in the ground and went right. Once I got outside, I just tried to take it to the house,” said McDuffie, who boasts three-career two-touchdown games.
After the senior wideout got the Knights on the scoreboard, the offense clicked on all cylinders, cashing in for points on seven-straight possessions following the return. Sophomore quarterback Blake Bortles showed off his arm, and his legs, notching career highs of 269 yards through the air on 15 completions and a team-high 62 yards on the ground.
“From an offensive standpoint, nobody blinked an eye,” Bortles said about trailing 14-0 early. “We have a very resilient bunch and everybody just said we have to keep playing our game and moving the ball when we get it.”
UCF’s offense wasn’t the only phase of the game that clicked as the defense registered two sacks, six tackles for loss and six quarterback hurries. Orlando native Shawn Moffitt led the special teams unit by nailing all four of his field goal attempts, including a career-long 49-yarder late in the fourth quarter.
“It was a good first conference win. I think all three areas–offense, defense and special teams – had something to do with the win. It was special teams that gave us the spark with the 99-yard touchdown return and the next punt return by (J.J.) Worton,” UCF head coach George O’Leary said. “We are happy to get the first conference win and get ready for the next conference game next Saturday.”
UCF’s lengthy stay at home will continue when it welcomes Southern Miss on Oct. 13 to Bright House Networks Stadium for a primetime affair at 8 p.m. on CBS Sports Network.
After UCF lost its first coin toss in 13 games, ECU opened the contest with an impressive 13-play, 75-yard drive that resulted in a Shane Carden 7-yard TD run up the middle.
The Pirates didn’t waste much time going up 14-0. After forcing a UCF three-and-out, ECU’s Carden hooked up with speedster Justin Hardy for a 76-yard strike down the far sideline.
With the Knights in need of a quick score themselves, McDuffie entered the record books just 25 seconds later with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown. The former high school track star, who tied Todd Cleveland with four TD returns all-time at UCF, turned on the burners after breaking through arm tackles at his own 35-yard line before taking it the distance.
The Knights capitalized on J.J. Worton’s 32-yard punt return, evening the game at 14-all when Storm Johnson plunged into the end zone on his fifth carry in the drive from four yards out.
UCF’s defense began to assert its dominance in the contest as Brandon Alexander dove in front of an ECU receiver on third down and picked off his first-career pass at the Pirate 26-yard line. Moffitt would cash in with back-to-back field goals to extend UCF’s lead to 20-14.
As time expired in the first half, the Pirates snapped the string of 20-straight points by the Knights when kicker Warren Harvey banged a 27-yarder through the uprights to bring ECU within three.
The second half began with the Knights on the move once more, mixing in the run and pass well before they had to settle for a Moffitt field goal from 36 yards out. ECU marched down the field after Carden hit Jabril Solomon down the middle for 60 yards. UCF’s defense stood strong, limiting the drive to just three points after Harvey connected from 31 yards out.
McDuffie once again showed off his wheels on the ensuing drive, taking a screen pass from Bortles 64 yards while weaving through would-be tacklers and accelerating down the near sideline for the career-long score. “He’s unbelievable. He’s one of the fastest kids I’ve ever seen,” Bortles said of McDuffie. “It was a great block out there on the perimeter and great play-call. They brought the house on a blitz and played man coverage and Quincy got in the whole and took off. Once gets in the open field there aren’t too many people that can catch him.”
One drive later, Bortles capped off a 12-play drive with a sneak over the left side from one-yard out to put the game out of reach, 37-20.
Leading the defense efforts for the Knights on the evening was sophomore middle linebacker Terrance Plummer who registered his third game of the season with 10-plus tackles, including 11 against the Pirates. Senior Kemal Ishmael also climbed up the UCF record books, passing Corey Hogue (279) for 10th all-time in career tackles (286).