UCF (9-3) triumphed over the University of Alabama at Birmingham Blazers (3-9) Saturday in a 49-24 victory, clinching the Eastern Conference USA Division and advancing to the Conference USA championship in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
It was a game decided emphatically upon turnovers, as the Blazers were able to out-produce the Knights on offense, totaling 599 yards to UCF’s 473.
However it was the lack of ball security in the red zone that did the Blazers in. In their seven trips up close, UAB was only able to convert two drives for touchdowns, settling for a field goal and three first half turnovers in their other attempts.
These turnovers were converted directly into 14 points, one touchdown capping a seven play, 80 yard drive, and the other resulting from a 76 yard interception return by senior Lyle Dankenbrig, who was playing his last game at Bright House Networks Stadium.
In fact, the game was impacted heavily by UCF seniors, who celebrated their years as a Knight with a pre-game ceremony on the field. Both takeaways caused by the defense were credited to seniors, and the group combined to score five touchdowns on the day.
Today’s victory gives the 2012 senior class the highest win percentage of any in UCF history.
Proud of his departing players, Coach George O’Leary shared a few final sentiments about the team, speaking about their record setting tenure.
“I think they’ve been through a lot of ups and downs, and I think they’ve always weathered the storm, this group of kids. They’ve had games that were tough losses, and great wins for us, but they’ve always had great perseverance,” he said.
Quarterback Blake Bortles passed for 225 yards and two touchdowns while completing 17 of his 23 pass attempts without throwing an interception. In typical fashion, he utilized nine different receivers in the game, spreading the ball all around.
The rushing attack was as powerful as it was diverse, relying on the efforts of seniors Latavius Murray, Brynn Harvey and Quincy McDuffie to account for 200 yards on the ground and four touchdowns.
Of the three, McDuffie did the majority of the damage, finding the end zone three times and rushing for 79 yards.
“I tell you what, he has great speed. That last play, I don’t think they even saw him with the ball until he was about 40 yards downfield,” he said.
O’Leary commented on the playmaker’s efforts after the game and had only positive things to say.
“I’m happy for Quincy, I think he’s had a great senior season himself, and I thought his execution today was outstanding,” he said.
UCF came out strong to open the game, setting the tone early. The offense drove 65 yards down the field on their first possession, scoring on a beautiful 18 yard pass to J.J. Worton in the right corner of the end zone.
The momentum continued to build when the Knights were able to recover a fumble in their own end zone, stripping a Blazers touchdown and snagging a touchback on the return.
The ensuing touchdown began the Knights’ run of dominance through the game, and by halftime the team was ahead 35-10.
There would be no major threats from the Blazers for the rest of the game, as the team would never improve on the 25 point lead.
The Knights will play the Conference USA Championship game next Saturday, December 1 st in against Tulsa (9-3) who handed UCF their only in conference loss last weekend.
It is a game highly anticipated by Knights fans, and Coach O’Leary himself, who stated that “When I was leaving the field, I told the coach I’ll see you in two weeks…. It’s a great opportunity for our football team, and they’re talking Tulsa in the locker room even though we won the division today.”
With the division title in hand, UCF needs just one more victory to secure the Conference and advance to the Liberty Bowl.