Nov. 19, 2011
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By John Denton
GREENVILLE, N.C. - Having already been through so many highs and lows during this wildly erratic season, UCF couldn't find the consistency offensively or defensively in a topsy-turvy Saturday night to keep itself in the hunt for a postseason bowl game.
A year after winning a conference championship and the Liberty Bowl and entering this season with sky-high hopes, UCF shockingly and sadly will not be in a bowl game this postseason.
UCF seemed to get a big reprieve late in the game when it forced a turnover and scored with 4 minutes left to tie the game at 31-all. But an East Carolina team that struck with big plays all night got a 56-yard touchdown run in the final minutes for the winning points. UCF had one last gasp to tie, but couldn't score from inside the 15-yard line and the final result was an East Carolina 38-31 victory that knocked the Knights out of bowl contention.
``I'm hurt. I'm disappointed in myself and I'm disappointed in the whole season,'' UCF senior defensive end Darius Nall said. ``I didn't expect this at all. I'm just not feeling good about this at all.''
UCF tied the game at 31-all late in the game on a 19-yard touchdown strike from Blake Bortles to J.J. Worton. The play was similar to the TD throw on the last play of last week's game against Southern Miss.
But East Carolina immediately responded with a 56-yard touchdown run by Torrance Hunt through the heart of the UCF defense for the winning points. The Knights had one last chance following a spectacular 72-yard kickoff return by Rannell Hall. However, Bortles was picked off on a fourth-down play in the final minutes.
``It's the same thing as last week (in a 31-30 loss to Southern Miss) - we didn't make plays and had too many missed tackles,'' UCF coach George O'Leary said of his defense. ``Obviously, I've got to look at that (defensive) side of the ball and see what we're doing.
``We just made too many mistakes all night long,'' O'Leary said. ``We had kicking game mistakes with penalties, we get the ball on the 6-inch line and don't get the ball in and we don't make plays (defensively). It's just very disappointing.''
Tied at 24-all, UCF (4-7 overall and 2-5 in Conference USA play) allowed East Carolina (5-6 and 4-3) to drive 72 yards in 10 plays for a go-ahead touchdown. Domminique Davis' fourth touchdown pass - a 10-yard jump ball to Reese Wiggins - put the Pirates up for the time being.
Said defensive tackle Victor Gray: ``It's very frustrating, but there are just some minor things we aren't doing. There were too many missed tackles and not executing. ... This is a horrible feeling and I don't ever want to be in this position again. I never want to feel like this again.''
UCF will close the season next Friday at Bright House Networks Stadium against UTEP, 57-28 losers on Saturday to Tulsa. The Knights did not win a road game all season, going 0-6 away from Orlando.
``It's very sad what's happened because we had high expectations,'' quarterback Jeff Godfrey said. ``We failed as a team and obviously made a lot of mistakes this season. We've got to finish this last game. The young guys need to help the seniors get a (win).''
The Knights dominated the time of possession in the game and mostly converted on third down throughout the contest. But UCF repeatedly failed on short-yardage runs, plays that ruined scoring opportunities.
As expected, UCF alternated Godfrey and Bortles throughout the game. Godfrey, the starter all season, got most of the snaps and moved the team well most of the nights. Godfrey completed nine of 13 passes for 100 yards, while Bortles hit on nine of 17 passes for 98 yards and two TDs. Both quarterbacks were intercepted once.
East Carolina stunned the Knights seconds into the third quarter when Davis hit Reese Wiggins for an 84-yard touchdown pass down the middle of the field. Wiggins shook off a Josh Robinson tackle and outran safety Kemal Ishmael for the longest touchdown given up by the Knights all season.
The Knights were hit with more adversity when they were stuffed four times from inside the 2-yard line early in the third quarter. UCF originally thought it had a 26-yard touchdown to Quincy McDuffie, but he was ruled to have stepped out of bounds at the two yard line. Following three quarterback sneaks and a failed sweep by Rannell Hall, the Knights were turned away at the 1-yard line.
But the topsy-turvy game took another twist seconds later when UCF safety Lyle Dankenbring picked off the first pass of his career. Freshman linebacker Troy Gray tipped the pass and Dankenbring returned the interception 15 yards to the 4-yard line. From there, Murray bowled in from 4 yards out for the score that tied the game at 24-all.
Through three quarters, UCF had controlled the football 14 more minutes (29 minutes to 15 minutes) largely because of the play on third down. UCF converted nine of its first 15 tries on third down, while East Carolina failed on its first 10 third-down plays.
UCF started and finished the first half well and got to halftime tied at 17-all. That was impressive considering that the Knights once trailed 17-7 and seemed to be teetering.
Nick Cattoi, who hooked a 39-yard field goal earlier in the first half, drilled a 39-yarder with two seconds left in the second quarter to knot the score at intermission.
A week after UCF ran for just 48 yards against Southern Miss, Murray was inserted into the starting lineup and injected some much-needed life into the ground game. He had 75 yards on 14 carries in the first half. His running helped the Knights roll up 193 yards and 10 first downs in the first half. UCF was an impressive seven of 11 on third downs in the first half, while East Carolina didn't convert a third-down play.
With UCF trailing 17-7 and the game seemingly slipping away, Bortles relieved Godfrey and promptly directed an 11-play, 65-yard scoring drive that covered more than 5 minutes. He got plenty of help from Murray, who ran for 48 yards on the drive, including a nifty 19-yard sprint around right end. Bortles ended the drive with a floating 2-yard pass to fellow redshirt freshman Josh Reese that got the Knights back within three points of the lead.
UCF then caught a break when an 82-yard touchdown pass from Davis to Reese Wiggins was negated by two East Carolina penalties.
UCF was sharp from the start of the game, marching 70 yards in 12 plays to take a 7-0 lead. The Knights mixed the run and the pass beautifully on the opening drive and got two big third-down throws from Godfrey. The sophomore capped the 6-minute drive by finding senior tight end Adam Nissley for a 3-yard touchdown. It was Nissley's second career touchdown catch.
UCF's momentum changed soon after when a Godfrey pass bounced off redshirt freshman receiver Josh Reese's hands and resulted in a Bradley Jacobs interception. From there, East Carolina scored the game's next 17 points by ripping on two touchdown drives and field goal. Davis had TD passes of nine and seven yards and Mike Barbour booted a 36-yard field goal.
UCF was on the negative end of some controversial calls in the first half. Cornerback Josh Robinson was flagged with a debatable pass interference on East Carolina's second scoring drive. Then, following a late-hit penalty by Victor Gray on a third-and-17 play, Robinson was flagged for a personal foul on a hard hit in bounds on a scrambling Davis. A play later, East Carolina was in the end zone again to build a 17-7.
John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFAthletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at email@example.com.