Even though it took a full quarter and then some for UCF to fully launch, the Knights found their boosters and blasted past Houston in its NASA-themed “UCF in Space” game, 44-29.

Clad in space-themed uniforms, UCF moved to 7-2 (4-1 in the American Athletic Conference) and won their 20th consecutive game at Spectrum Stadium.
The Knights trailed, 23-21, going into halftime, but just like last week at Temple the Knights used a big third quarter, outscoring the Cougars (3-6) 21-0, and suffocating them on defense in the second half. Houston had a problem, managing just 62 second-half yards.

“We were able to make plays and tackle well when we got to the ball, and we had a ton of energy because of it. In the second half we played well in all three phases of the game,” Coach Josh Heupel said. “I’m proud of our kids handling the adversity of being down at the half, it’s the competitive maturity this team has, each side of the ball believes in the other. They played really hard.”

The Knights, who started slow on offense and defense, trailed 17-7 in the first quarter before both units began clicking in unison. Dillon Gabriel hit Tre Nixon on a 32-yard touchdown pass, and then after the defense forced a Houston punt, Gabriel took it himself from 22 yards on a zone read option play.
But when the Cougars milked field goals out of their next two drives, they found themselves back in the lead.

Then the third quarter happened.

Bentavious Thompson bolted up the middle for a 43-yard run to give UCF back a lead it wouldn’t again surrender. The lead got more comfortable on their next drive when Gabriel and Nixon hooked up on fourth down for a score — the same tandem on the same down for the same result as last week at Temple — from 34 yards out.

“I had no idea it was fourth down. We rep the plays in practice over and over so when you get in the game you just go to make a play,” Nixon said. “This team is never really rattled. It’s a brotherhood and it’s about the next play.”

On the next drive, Jake Harris hauled in an over-the-shoulder catch for 42 yards down to the 2-yard-line, and Thompson took it from there to push the lead to 42-23 headed to the fourth quarter.

Down 42-29, Houston got the ball back with 1:42 left on its 2-yard line, but Brendan Hayes effectively ended the game, sacking quarterback Clayton Tune for a safety.

The Knights now have a short week, as they travel to play Tulsa on Friday, the third of four non-Saturday games for UCF. Kickoff is at 8 p.m. on ESPN2.