A victory that clinches a share of a conference championship is pretty sweet. When that victory comes against your rival, it’s even sweeter.
In a game that featured eight turnovers, it seems only fitting that an interception helped deliver the No. 17/19 UCF football team’s 23-20 win over USF under Friday night’s lights in an ESPN-televised broadcast at Bright House Networks Stadium.
The Knights (10-1, 7-0) clung to a 23-20 lead as the Bulls (2-9, 2-5) marched across midfield with roughly 90 seconds remaining. On 3rd-and-6, quarterback Mike White looked down the field once again.
UCF defensive back Jordan Ozerities couldn’t have picked a better time for his first interception of the season. He snatched the ball and kept on running deep into USF territory, locking up his team’s seventh-straight win, matching the 2002’s squad’s school-record stretch.
With the win, the Knights are one step closer to securing their first BCS bowl bid.*
“It’s a good win. I’m glad it was against USF because it will leave something to the rival games in the future,” UCF head coach George O’Leary said. “I think this game will grow to be a great game as far as interest level for everybody from the Orlando and Tampa areas. It just doesn’t have a lot of age to it yet. Once it starts having some type of tradition to it I think it is going to be one of those games that people will talk about.”
UCF struggled early with three turnovers on its first four possessions of the game, which allowed the Bulls to carry a 6-3 lead into the second quarter.
The Bulls hoped to make some magic happen on 4th-and-2 at UCF’s 8-yard line, but fortune decided to favor the Knights this time as USF fumbled the snap. Linebacker Justin McDonald’s recovery allowed UCF to spend the next seven minutes cutting up 92 yards en route to its first touchdown of the game.
Bortles found Justin Tukes in the corner of the end zone for the tight end’s first touchdown of the season and a 10-6 lead with 1:22 remaining in the half.
UCF’s first-half work wasn’t done yet, thanks to a defensive effort that forced the Bulls to go three-and-out. Shawn Moffitt capped the half with a 24-yard field goal for a 13-6 advantage heading into the locker room.
The Bulls made the Knights pay for Bortles’ fumble midway through the third quarter by driving 29 yards straight into the end zone. Chris Dunkley ran 13 yards on an end around for the touchdown that tied the game at 13-13 with 5:43 to go in the third.
Rannell Hall’s 69-yard kickoff return after the score sent the lulled crowd into a frenzy. Although the Knights had to settle for a 39-yard field goal from Moffitt, it did allow them to regain the lead, 16-13, with 4:06 remaining in the third.
USF responded with a 77-yard drive that was capped by Marcus Shaw’s 1-yard rush for a touchdown not even a minute into the fourth quarter. Coupled with the PAT, USF took its largest lead of the game, 20-16.
The next 13 minutes tested the heart of every Knights’ fan watching the game. Scoreless possessions were exchanged. Bortles was intercepted with less than seven minutes remaining. USF’s kicker Marvin Kloss missed a 51-yard field goal wide right.
And then, the breakthrough came.
On first-and-10 from his own 48-yard line, Bortles zeroed in on wide receiver Breshad Perriman streaking down the left sideline. Perriman used a double move on the Bulls cornerback to get behind him.
“The safety was late and the corner had been seeing our routes all game. So, the safety didn’t get over and Blake stuck it in there,” Perriman said. “When I broke on the first route, I felt like I had him because he jumped on it hard. I’m just glad he threw it to me.”
The 52-yard reception gave UCF a 23-20 lead with 4:46 remaining – still plenty of time for the Bulls to get one more score in before the clock ran out.
Ozerities ensured that never happened, and UCF went on to post its first 10-win regular season in school history.
The Knights play their final game of the regular season on the road Dec. 7 at noon on ESPN against SMU.