Going into next week’s Black Friday rivalry matchup with South Florida, UCF got some momentum Saturday with a 34-31 road win over Tulane, but there’s at least a couple more things they probably need to find before next week.
As in, as it appeared today in New Orleans, a football with handles. Or Stickum for their hands.
The Knights dropped seven passes on offense, but overcame them for their first road win in a month.
Coach Josh Heupel lauded the team’s effort after the game.
“We played hard the entire day. Sure, we did some things to hurt ourselves at the end but the defensively maintained intensity. Offensively we took advantage of a lot of opportunities.
UCF (8-3) scored on its first drive of the second half to take a 24-7 lead, then managed the rest of the clock with a run game to hang on for the win.
Knights freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel showed a new dimension, keeping drives alive on the zone read play with his feet. He carried 12 times for 58 yards to go with a 317 passing yard performance on a day that both quarterbacks led their teams in rushing (the Green Wave’s Justin McMillon carried 23 times for 102 yards).
“DIllon used his feet really well. We’ll take a win,” Heupel said.
UCF built an advantage early, getting a Dylan Barnas 35-yard field goal and 23-yard Marlon Williams touchdown catch on their first two drives to build a lead.
After Tulane (6-5) bit into the lead with a touchdown drive capped by a Corey Dauphine 14-yard run, the Knights answered right back when Otis Anderson got around the left side and followed a convoy of blockers 44 yards for a score.
“We needed to play with energy and the right right mindset after last week (a 34-31 loss to Tulsa). “When our backs are against the wall we play better. This is a good team we played. We needed to regain confidence quickly. Everybody came out and had to do with this win.”
It was “all hands on deck” on the Knights’ first drive after halftime. Gabriel picked up three first downs on runs, then hit Williams for 30 yards on fourth-and-5. Fullback-like Dariel Mack entered at quarterback and scored on a 1-yard run.
Tulane broke the stranglehold on the momentum when Stephon Huderson returned the ensuing kickoff 98 yards for a score.
Up 27-17, Anderson keyed another scoring drive that would ultimately provide the winning margin. He caught a pass from the slot, shook a tackle and went 58 yards. Mack entered again when the Knights reached the doorstep and, on fourth-and-goal from the 2, found little-used title end Anthony Roberson for a touchdown.
That kickoff return may have changed the way the game played, but our kids played with great energy all game long,” Heupel said. “These kids love to compete.”
The victory is the 39th for this class seniors, the most ever for a class — with two games to come.
The next one is the War on I-4.