Senior safety Brandon Alexander thrives in the last minute of the game when the Knights face Houston.

Last year, Alexander preserved a five-point win with a fourth-down pass breakup in the end zone at Bright House Networks Stadium. Thursday night at John TDECU Stadium, he forced a fumble through the end zone at the 1-yard line as Houston QB Greg Ward Jr. was leaping and reaching for the end zone. That play also preserved a five-point win, 17-12.

“The quarterback broke and I just knew his intent was not to pass, it was to run,” Alexander said. “So, he just dove. When he dove, I dove. Everything happens for a reason. I just laid on the ground real quick. I saw everybody freeze … and then I just saw Clayton come out of nowhere, jacking me up, saying `Good job! Good job!’ Everybody was just celebrating. It was a wonderful feeling.”

Alexander finished the game with a team-high nine tackles, one interception and the game-saving forced fumble.

UCF head coach George O’Leary was happy to get out of Houston with a victory in the conference-opener.

“Any win’s a good win,” O’Leary said. “It’s a good first conference game.”

Offensively, a quick flurry of 10 points to open the second half ended up being just enough for the Knights.

Quarterback Justin Holman found wide receiver Breshad Perriman for a 52-yard touchdown strike to make it 14-6. Alexander picked Houston QB John O’Korn on the ensuing possession, which led to a 42-yard Shawn Moffitt field goal and UCF led 17-6 midway through the third period.

Meanwhile, the UCF defense bent, but did not break the entire game. The defense put together a goal-line stand, stuffing four straight plays from the 2-yard line in the first quarter. Time and again, they pushed Houston away from the end zone, forcing the Cougars to kick four field goals.

“Houston’s a good offense,” O’Leary said. “I thought, except for a couple series, the back end played very well today and tackled well.”

Kyle Bullard hit a 52-yard field goal with just over 11 minutes remaining, trimming the Cougars’ deficit to eight, 17-9. A Jaryl Mamea sack, his third of the game, pushed Houston back when they were threatening the end zone with 5 minutes left. After the sack, Bullard hit his fourth field goal of the game with 4:46 remaining. This one was from 49 yards out and left UCF with a 17-12 edge.

Trailing 3-0, UCF grabbed the lead after a second-quarter turnover. Clayton Geathers set his offense up at the 25-yard line after stepping in front of a O’Korn pass for his first interception of the season. Five plays later, Justin Holman found Jackie Williams for a 5-yard touchdown pass and the Knights led 7-3 with 9:27 remaining in the first half. It was Williams’ first score as a Knight. Bullard added a 42-yard field goal for Houston with less than two minutes before intermission to cut the lead to 7-6.

Bullard opened the scoring as Houston took advantage of a UCF turnover. After the Knights lost a fumble, the defense forced a 39-yard field goal from the Cougars kicker five minutes into the first quarter. The Knights dodged a bullet late in the first quarter with a goal-line stand, stopping four straight plays from inside the 2-yard line.