West Virginia's vaunted rushing attack found the running tough against an enthused UCF defensive front. A solid drive late in the opening quarter did put the Mountaineers deep in UCF territory, but a 24-yard Brad Cooper field goal was all they could manage.
On defense, the Blue and Gold picked up right where they left off 10 days ago against Virginia tech. Back to back Todd James punts of 66 and 41 yards pinned the Golden Knights deep in their own territory and talented quarterback Ryan Schneider was not enough to bring them out of the hole. Schneider managed 55 yards on six completions but only 14 yards on the ground slowed UCF, and kept them off of the board. The opening quarter surely was not the blowout that many expected and West Virginia held only a narrow 3-0 lead at the end of one.
The second quarter finally provided some of the fireworks that Mountaineer fans had been waiting on. After a 24-yard run from Kay-Jay Harris put the ball on the UCF 11, Rasheed Marshall found the end zone on a one-yard dive, and West Virginia extended its lead to 10-0.
Two plays later the WVU lead was extended further on a Golden Knight miscue. A UCF personal foul after the West Virginia score put the ball at midfield for the kickoff. Brad Cooper sent a beautiful lob to the two-yard line where Brooks Turner was waiting for the return. With the short field to run, West Virginia's coverage team was on top of Turner in the blink of an eye and pulled the speedy receiver down at the eight where the Knights took over. After a three-yard rush, Schneider dropped into the shotgun for the second down play. The snap from UCF center Cedric Gagne-Marcoux sailed over the senior quarterback's head and out of the end zone for a WVU safety and the final Mountaineer score of the half.
The remainder of the period was a running back clinic, but the end zone was illusive and the Blue and Gold had to settle for 12 first half points. After being held to just 11 yards in the first quarter, WVU superback Quincy Wilson exploded for 105 yards on the ground including a 46 yard scamper that brought the sparse crowd to its feet and the "Weirton Steel" logo to the scoreboard. A Rasheed Marshall interception ended the scoring threat, however, and kept the Knights in the game. A 43-yard Matt Prater field goal put UCF on the board as time expired, and West Virginia headed to the locker room with a 12-3 lead.
UCF came back out after the half with a great deal of confidence that they could indeed score the upset. The game was still clearly within reach for the Knights, but a costly turnover would make the task much tougher. On the first Golden Knight drive of the game, Ryan Schneider looked downfield for a completion. Instead, he found West Virginia safety Brian King, and the senior recorded his third interception in the last two contests.
As winning teams usually do, the Mountaineers took full advantage of the miscue. Rasheed Marshall found wideout Chris Henry on two straight plays to move the ball to the UCF 22. Kay-Jay Harris took the ball 14 yards to the eight-yard line, and Travis Garvin took it in on an end around. The Blue and Gold found themselves with a 19-3 lead and were prepared to run away, but the Golden Knights had other ideas.
The WVU special teams unit that has become a strength of this squad made its first mistake in recent weeks and gave Central Florida a crucial break in field possession. After two booming punts early in the contest, Todd James shanked a nine-yard punt toward the UCF bench and the visitors took over at the 47. Just as West Virginia had done earlier, Schneider and the Golden Knight offense made the most of the mistake. Tailback Alex Haynes found success on the ground for the first time and gained 37 yards on three carries and found pay dirt to cut the Mountaineer lead to eight at 19-11.
Backup Charles Hales replaced Rasheed Marshall behind center after Marshall left the game with a concussion on the previous drive. With only a slim lead and the reserve quarterback in the game, many Mountaineer fans began to chew their nails. The West Virginia offense stuck to the basics with the backup signal caller and found little success for the remainder of the third quarter. The Golden Knights held four fingers in the air and were filled with confidence as the third period gun sounded.
The Knight hopes soon took a major blow, however, as the WVU special teams unit atoned for their early mistake. UCF shot itself in the foot with penalties and faced a fourth down and 30 at their own 25. Little known defensive back Jerry White got his name in the final stats as he burst through the line to block the Matt Prater punt. Freshman defensive back Joe Hunter fell on the loose pigskin in the end zone, and West Virginia took a 26-11 lead.
Not to be out done, the West Virginia offense quickly came up with a big play of its own. Facing a second and 26 from the West Virginia 21, Rodriguez decided to take a chance through the air. Charles Hales made the biggest play of his young career as he took the snap, dropped back, pumped, and lofted the ball toward a speeding Chris Henry who had a step on the UCF defensive back. The ball fell directly into Henry's arms, and much like Travis Garvin had done against the Hokies 10 days before, Henry ran the length of the field for the touchdown that gave the Mountaineers a 33-11 lead and let out any air that was left in the Golden Knights' upset balloon. The final ten minutes saw the Knights add a token score before Brad Cooper connected on a career long 43-yard attempt and the Blue and Gold left the field with a sloppy 36-18 win.
The penalty and mistake filled game looked more like a season opener than the eighth game of the year, but as the old saying goes, "a win is a win." The Blue and Gold moved one step closer to the ultimate goal of a bowl birth and will now need to win just two of the final four contests to qualify for postseason play. The journey continues next Saturday in Chestnut Hill as the Mountaineers (4-4) take on the Boston College Eagles (5-4) in a Big East showdown.