Kyle Bullard punches in a 39-yard field goal with 09:50 left in the first quarter as the nationally televised AAC matchup gets off to a slow start.
Houston had a 3-0 lead over the Knights until Justin Holman’s 6-yard touchdown pass to Jackie Williams in the second quarter, giving UCF the 7-3 lead over the Cougars.
Bullard wrapped up the first half with a 42-yard field goal. Houston trailed by one point heading into halftime.
John O’Korn struggled, throwing an interception and being sacked twice by a persistent UCF defense in the first half.
The Knights wasted no time at the start of the third quarter. Holman connected with Breshad Perriman for a 52-yard touchdown pass, improving to a 14-6 UCF lead.
O’Korn threw his second interception of the game immediately during the next Houston drive and was pulled from the starting position for the remainder of the game.
The UCF offense capitalized on the turnover and worked their way into field goal range for a successful 42-yard field goal attempt by Shawn Moffitt, taking it to a comfortable 17-6 lead.
Ward Jr. took the reins of the unproductive Houston offense, only to get into field goal range once again for a successful 51-yard field goal attempt by Bullard.
With the scoreboard now reading 17-9 UCF, the Cougar offense was in field goal range again.
Bullard booted in a 49-yard field goal giving Houston hope for a come from behind victory over the Knights with only a 17-12 deficit.
Ward Jr. evasively rushed for 19 yards with the quarterback keeper charging for the end zone as Brandon Alexander forced the fumble for a touchback, sealing the fate of the Cougars as the last seconds ran out on the clock.
Bullard leads the AAC with 47 points scored for the 2014 season. His 51-yard field goal in the fourth quarter is a career long. Bullard has made 18-straight field goals since last season, beating the previous record holder, Matt Hogan, who had 16-straight field goals from 2009-2010.
Rowdy Harper has started every game of his career and made his 44th consecutive start Thursday night, leading the nation in career starts by a lineman.
A critical offensive issue haunting the Cougars throughout the game was the amount of dropped balls and lack of first downs resulting in zero Houston touchdowns.
“…There were some key drops, they’re all key. I’m afraid when I look at the video they are going to be in the 6 to 8 range. There were some where our quarterback was scrambling to make a play and the coverage came off and left receivers. We would dish the ball out there to give us a chance to get at least some positive yards and get us in the second medium or possibly break a tackle. But we dropped some of those balls,” Coach Tony Levine said. “Deontay (Greenberry) had a couple that were uncharacteristic of him, he came back and made some good catches at the end of the game.”
The Third Ward D continues to produce impressive stats, and remains the strong point of the Houston squad.
Efrem Oliphant’s fumble recovery in the first quarter marked 28 straight games with a turnover for Houston. Oliphant has now recorded double-digit tackles in 14 games.
“Our focus was just to go out there and play ball. Everyone on defense is doing their jobs to the best of their abilities, and we have been able to create turnovers and get off the field,” Oliphant said. “We only had one turnover this game, so obviously we feel like we didn’t do our job as we should have…”
Derrick Mathews still remains the nation’s active leader with 397 career tackles.
According to Levine, the starting quarterback position is undecided at this point between O’Korn and Ward Jr. as Houston prepares to play Memphis on the road.
A win during the first conference matchup of the season would have marked the first victory over George O’Leary’s Knights since 2006 and the 400-win milestone for the Houston football program.