The UCF football team locked up bowl eligibility for the third-straight year and remained in the hunt for the American Athletic Conference championship with its 31-7 win over Tulsa on Friday night in the program’s 50th game at Bright House Networks Stadium.
Sophomore quarterback Justin Holman led his team to a season-best night of 506 yards of total offense, completing 16-of-27 pass attempts for 291 yards and a career-high three touchdowns. Meanwhile, UCF’s defense held Tulsa to 201 yards and 3-of-12 on third down conversions.
“I thought the defense went out and played well and made some keys we had to make, and offensively we came up with some big plays passing-wise, which opened up the running game,” UCF head coach George O’Leary said. “I think the coverage teams were good on special teams and (it was an) overall good game. Time of possession was big in our favor, which led to good field position in a lot of situations.”
UCF’s defense helped its offense put its first points on the board when corner Jordan Ozerities intercepted the ball near the end of the first quarter. A facemask penalty put UCF inside the 10-yard line, but the Hurricane defense forced the Knights to call upon Rodrigo Quirarte for a 27-yard field goal with 40 seconds remaining in the quarter.
After Tulsa went three-and-out on its first possession of the second quarter, Breshad Perriman spared the Knights the same fate when he brought down a 48-yard completion to set up his team in the red zone.
Holman kept the drive alive again on third down when he stretched out for the sticks to pick up a first down at the 5-yard line. He then connected with J.J. Worton, who juked two defenders and lunged over the goal line for his 20th career touchdown. With 11:08 to go in the half, UCF led 10-0.
It didn’t take long for Holman to get the crowd out of their seats again. He completed his longest pass of the season, a 77-yarder to Josh Reese – a career-best for the wide receiver – for a 17-0 lead with 7:57 to go.
The Golden Hurricane capitalized off an uncharacteristic muffed punt from Worton that Matt Linscott recovered at the 27-yard line. Keevan Lucas was the Golden Hurricane’s go-to guy. He followed up his 19-yard rush with an acrobatic 8-yard touchdown reception. Originally, his one-handed catch was ruled incomplete, but the call was overturned after review. Tulsa got on the board before the break, but it was the Golden Hurricane’s lone score of the evening.
UCF added to its advantage midway through the third quarter, thanks to Holman’s composure. On the run, Holman completed a 30-yard pass on the run to Justin Tukes. He then launched a perfect spiral to Perriman, who was streaking toward the left corner of the end zone. The 25-yard touchdown gave UCF a 24-7 lead with 9:27 to go in the third.
Dontravious Wilson dominated the Knights’ next scoring drive, churning out seven carries for 50 of the 72 yards required to reach the end zone, including his first-career rushing touchdown. It was 31-7 just before the end of the third quarter.
A pass intended for Connor Floyd ended up in UCF defensive back D.J. Killings’ hands for the defense’s second pick of the night. The defense handled business again on Tulsa’s next drive when Brandon Alexander intercepted a pass in the end zone with 8:31 remaining.
“We had some picks, and we had to have some key plays and got some takeaways,” O’Leary said. “It was a good game and a very solid game by the defense. They tackled well, and offensively I thought we had a pretty good run/pass combination.”
The Golden Hurricane managed to get the ball back after quarterback Nick Patti threw an interception, but the defense forced three-and-out once more, allowing UCF’s offense to ride out the clock for the win.
The Knights are now tied atop the conference standings with Cincinnati and Memphis at 4-1.
“Nothing changes. The mentality’s still the same. We’re going to go out and we’re going to bust our butts every game,” Worton said. “It’s a one-game playoff. To get to the goal that we want, is to win every one of them. We’ll look out for the next person that comes up.”
UCF will meet SMU in the final home game of the season Nov. 22 at noon.