It was a fitting end to the 2012 home slate for the UCF football team Saturday afternoon. One of the most impressive teams in Conference USA since joining the league in 2005, the Knights (9-3, 7-1) played their C-USA regular-season finale and were guided by one of the most dominant senior classes in school history when they toppled UAB, 49-24.
It was the class of 2012 that made what seemed like all the plays for the Knights on Saturday to ensure UCF captured its fourth C-USA East Division title and a spot in next week’s championship game scheduled for noon at Tulsa on the ESPN family of networks.
“It’s a win and another division championship,” head coach George O’Leary said after the game. “It also makes the senior class the winningest one is school history, so I am very happy for them. That whole senior class is just a great group of kids and have mostly all graduated. They are going to be very successful in the future if it’s in football or something else.”
With its 33 victories, the senior class tied the all-time record for most wins over a four-year span and saw senior FS Kemal Ishmael rack up 10 tackles to move into fifth all-time at UCF while fellow classmate Quincy McDuffie notched a career-high three rushing TDs on six attempts for 79 yards.
“Coming down to the end of the season, most guys won’t play at the next level, and this was going to be our last game at home. We just had a lot to lose this game, and everybody just took it seriously knowing we just had to get back to Tulsa and handle business,” said Ishmael, who registered his first-career sack on the last defensive play.
Following the recognition ceremony for the 20-member senior class, it was quick work for the UCF offense after receiving the opening kickoff. Needing only five plays, the Knights picked up yards in large chunks. Murray scampered for 20 yards followed by back-to-back 18-yard passes by Bortles as the second resulted in an over-the-shoulder catch in the end zone by J.J. Worton for his third receiving TD of the year.
UAB looked to even the game at 7-all, but senior LB Jonathan Davis forced his second fumble of the year at the 1-yard line while fellow classmate A.J. Bouye recovered the ball in the end zone for the 23rd takeaway of 2012.
UCF’s offense turned the freebie into six points when Murray rumbled in from three yards out for his 35th-career TD, and 13th of 2012. It was the Knights’ 28th scoring drive this season of 75 yards or more.
After a failed UCF fourth-down attempt from midfield, UAB looked to take advantage of the short field, but the Knights’ stout defense stiffened and denied the Blazers on three-straight rushing attempts from the 10-yard line to reclaim possession.
Up 14-3, senior punter Jamie Boyle was aided by his classmates Ishmael and FB Billy Giovanetti, who helped down the kick at the 1-yard line. That setup a defensive stop followed by a 34-yard punt return by Worton to the UAB nine. Two plays later, McDuffie hit paydirt on an end-around for his first rushing score of the year.
Keeping with the Senior Day theme, fifth-year DB Lyle Dankenbring made his presence felt after he jumped in front of an attempted screen pass and took it to the house from 78 yards out to make it 28-3. It was the first-career TD for the Palm City, Fla., native, and fifth-longest INT return in school history.
“It was a screen (play), and he said if he didn’t catch it that it would’ve stuck in his mask,” O’Leary said with a chuckle about Dankenbring’s pick-six. “That’s what you need to happen. Football is a game of momentum anyway. That one really hurt because it was the back breaker as far as them moving the ball and being in field-goal range. It was a great play by him and a great play by the defense.”
The first-half offensive fireworks continued for UCF following UAB’s 76-yard passing score. McDuffie took the ensuing kickoff 44 yards while the Knights needed just 53 seconds to see Bortles hook up with Worton from four-yards out to give UCF its most first-half points (35) since opening night at Akron.
In the second half, McDuffie scored his second rushing TD of the day after taking the jet-sweep handoff from Rob Calabrese out of the “Wild Knight” into the end zone from eight-yards out to make it 42-10.
UAB wouldn’t go away quietly, racking up 599 total yards off offense and making it a three-possession game at 42-24 in final quarter. UCF used a key fourth-down stop at its own 23-yard line with 8:32 left to end the Blazers’ momentum.
The bruising Murray salted the game away with four-straight carries prior to McDuffie housing another jet sweep for 43-yards for his eighth score of the year.
For tickets to next weekend’s C-USA Championship at Tulsa, click HERE. The Knights and Golden Hurricane are tied 1-all in their meetings for the right to hoist the league-championship trophy.