Dec. 7, 2013
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By Andy Seeley
DALLAS, Texas (UCFKnights.com) - The Knights threw a Fastball past the SMU Mustangs Saturday afternoon at Gerald J. Ford Stadium. With the UCF offense struggling in the first half, the Knights went to their up-tempo, no-huddle offense - called Fastball - following the haftime break.
The third-quarter offensive strategy and some stout, big-play defense in the fourth quarter led to a 17-13 victory over SMU (5-7, 4-4 AAC). The victory gave the Knights the outright American Athletic Conference title and capped an undefeated league slate.
"Congratulations, you are the champions," head coach George O'Leary told the team in the locker room. "It's a great win for the fanbase and everybody, especially the ones who have been with us so long and waiting for something like this. They have the champions now and a BCS Bowl team."
UCF (11-1, 8-0) amassed just three points and 122 yards in the first two quarters as they battled icy conditions and mid-20s temperatures. But with the Knights turning up the heat, they put up 14 points and 179 yards in the third quarter alone, taking that 17-13 advantage into the fourth quarter. The two third-quarter touchdowns both came from the legs of quarterback Blake Bortles.
After trailing 10-3 at halftime, the Knights tied it up 10-10 midway through the third quarter. With the Fastball offense speeding things up, Bortles was 5-of-5 passing on the possession for 51 yards. He then finished with a one-yard QB sneak. SMU responded with a 39-yard field goal from Chase Hover to go up 13-10 with 3:24 left in the third period.
"I made a decision to go Fastball. I didn't like the tempo (in the first half)," O'Leary said. "I thought he controlled it a little bit better on the field. They hung in there and made some good adjustments at halftime. We came out in the no-huddle and Blake did an outstanding job of controlling the ball."
Just three minutes later, Bortles gave the Knights their first lead of the game with 14 seconds left in the third quarter. He led a 62-yard march and topped it off with a 15-yard scramble for a TD around the left end. Shawn Moffitt's PAT put the Knights on top 17-13.
From there, the UCF defense took over. The Knights made a pair of fourth-quarter, fourth-down stops on defense. The second of which came on three consecutive plays where SMU needed just one yard to extend its possession. Clayton Geathers put an end to another Mustangs' possession with an interception. But the UCF offense couldn't put SMU away.
Finally, with the Mustangs' third-string QB in the game, UCF's defense held on 4th-and-14 in SMU territory with less than two minutes remaining, allowing the Knights to run out the clock.
"They're making hits," O'Leary said of his defense. "They gave up some plays. But that's a group that really hangs in there and they're only going to get better as they get older."
Hover capped a 15-play drive to open the contest for SMU with a 33-yard field goal. It took 8 minutes, 54 seconds off the clock and was the longest play by plays and time of possession against the Knights this season.
Moffitt tied it up for the Knights four minutes into the second quarter, with a 32-yard field goal to make it 3-3. It was Moffitt's 20th field goal of the season, tying the UCF single-season record, originally set by Michael Torres in 2007.
The Mustangs quickly regained the lead, 10-3. Keenan Holman hauled in a 30-yard touchdown pass from Neal Burcham. The SMU scoring drive was keyed by a 31-yard run from Kevin Pope on a draw play on 3rd-and-14. That set up the Knights' change of pace as they came back from the intermission.
UCF will now await its BCS Bowl fate. The announcement will be made on ESPN at 8:30 p.m. ET Sunday night.