There were many reasons to celebrate inside Bright House Networks Stadium on a beautiful Saturday evening as the UCF football team held on for a thrilling double-overtime win over Southern Miss, 38-31.
The Knights (4-2, 2-0) registered their 100th win in FBS history and first against the Golden Eagles (0-6, 0-2) since 2007. It was also UCF’s first overtime victory in school history.
“I said earlier in the week that you can throw the records out and give Southern Miss credit that they came in here and fought,” head coach George O’Leary said. “I don’t think we played as well as we would have liked in any phase of the game, but a lot of that was caused by Southern Miss. They went punch for punch with us. Thankfully we played hard in the overtime periods as far as run, pass and defensively with the pick.
“We’ve have so many close encounters with Southern Miss and it’s a great win as far as another conference win and a step closer to what we want to get accomplished.”
Holding leads of 17-7 and 24-14 during the game, UCF found itself going to overtime when USM’s Corey Acosta snuck in a 27-yarder that scraped the left goal post to tie the game at 24-all. In the extra sessions, UCF senior running back Latavius Murray made his presence felt by ripping off 28 of his 52 yards on the ground, including a pair of TDs to move into fourth all-time with 25-career rushing TDs.
Fellow senior Kemal Ishmael ended any thoughts of Southern Miss forcing a third overtime when he snatched his second interception of the season on the first play of USM’s second OT series at the seven-yard line.
“The defense did a good job walling the receiver and forcing the quarterback to make a throw he didn’t want to make. It was just good game-planning and good practice. Coach checked out of one of our calls and went to another and it was a great call,” Ishmael said about the game-sealing pick.
O’Leary added about his four-year starter, Ishmael: “Your great football players are always in the right position and that’s where Kemal was. A great play by him, and he is just a terrific football player.”
Also leading the Knights in the victory was the redshirt sophomore trio of Blake Bortles, Storm Johnson and J.J. Worton. For the third-straight game, Bortles notched a career-high through the air after connecting on 27-of-40 passes for 272 yards. He also chipped in on the ground with two short one-yard plunges.
After failing to record a grab in the 40-20 win over East Carolina, Worton responded with a career-best 117 yards on eight catches. Johnson tallied a career-high 94 yards on 18 carries, including a dazzling 32-yard dash through the Golden Eagles defense in the fourth quarter.
Senior Jonathan Davis registered a team-leading nine tackles and was joined by redshirt sophomore Clayton Geathers and Ishmael, who notched eight and seven stops, respectively. Defensive back Jordan Ozerities also notched his second-career interception just after halftime.
With their longest homestand since 2001-02 in the books, the Knights will turn their attention to Memphis when they head to the River City next Saturday for a primetime showdown at 7 p.m.