Tulsa clinched the Conference USA West Division Championship with a 23-21 comeback victory against the East Division-leading UCF Knights in front of 19,725 fans at H.A. Chapman Stadium on Saturday afternoon. The West Division title is the fourth outright divisional crown for the Hurricane in eight years as a league member.
Tulsa (9-2, 7-0 C-USA) will play in the title game on December 1 against either UCF (8-3, 6-1 C-USA) or East Carolina. The game will most likely be played at Tulsa's H.A. Chapman Stadium.
Trailing 14-10 at halftime, the Hurricane offense scored 13 points in the third quarter to take a 23-14 lead after three quarters and the Tulsa defense had a dominant performance in limiting UCF to 66 yards rushing, 123 yards below its season average, 235 total yards and two touchdowns. UCF's third TD came on a 76-yard interception return by A. J. Bouye.
Cody Green completed 21-of-34 passes for 252 yards and a career-high three touchdowns for the Hurricane, all three going to Keyarris Garrett, who tallied seven receptions for 130 yards. The Tulsa ground attack was led by Trey Watts' 122 yards while the Hurricane gained 209 yards on the ground.
UCF's Latavius Murray, who had four straight 100+ rushing games coming into today's contest was held to 60 yards rushing. Blake Bortles completed 13-of-31 passes for 169 yards and one TD, but was held to just 19 yards passing in the second half.
Tulsa's defensive stand in the final 2:27 that clinched the Hurricane victory saw the Knights manage -5 yards on four plays from their own 15-yard line.
Today was the first game this season that the Tulsa offense had zero rushing touchdowns. Although Tulsa's defense did not force a UCF turnover, the Hurricane did total seven TFLs for -25 yards, four sacks for -19 yards and eight pass break-ups in the game. Tulsa held UCF to 85 yards in the second half, while the Hurricane offense put up 240 second-half yards.
"Well, I couldn't be prouder of our players, obviously. We've been a resilient team. I'm very disappointed that we turned the ball over twice early, but that's the kind of team Central Florida is. They cashed both of those turnovers into points, and it took us a while to get going," said Tulsa Head Coach Bill Blankenship.
In the second half, Tulsa took its' second possession 80 yards in nine plays in an elapsed time of 2:50 to take a 16-14 lead. Green connected on his second TD pass of the game with Garrett for a 20-yard touchdown, but Tulsa failed to take a three-point lead when the Tulsa PAT was blocked.
The Hurricane took the subsequent possession 87 yards in 12 plays when Green connected with Garrett on a third down pass for 13 yards and a touchdown to give Tulsa a 23-14 lead at the 5:11 mark of the third period.
After Tulsa punted from its end zone, UCF took possession at the Hurricane 42-yard line and went eight plays in 4:07 to cut the Hurricane lead to 23-21 as Murray ran in from two yards out for the score.
Daniel Schwarz put the first points on the board with a 41-yard field goal at the 6:53 mark of the first quarter, capping a 26-yard, seven-play drive.
The Hurricane took its next possession 73 yards in just two plays as Green connected with Garrett on a 73-yard scoring play to put Tulsa head 10-0 with 3:51 remaining in the first stanza.
UCF went 71 yards in eight plays for its first points at 10:26 of the second quarter as Bortles escaped Hurricane defenders and completed a 26-yard pass to Breshad Perriman for the touchdown, cutting the Tulsa lead to three points at 10-7.
After Ja'Terian Douglas was stripped of the ball, the fumble gave the Knights possession at the Hurricane 32-yard line, but the Hurricane defense stiffened and forced a 54-yard field goal that went wide left. However, UCF's A.J. Bouye took an interception back 76 yards for a touchdown and a 14-10 Knights lead.
The Knights went into halftime with a 14-10 lead, but the Hurricane held a 241 to 152-yard advantage in total offense for the first 30 minutes. Tulsa gained 74 yards rushing and 167 passing yards, while UCF had 150 of its 152 yards through the air.
Tulsa takes to the road next Saturday to complete the regular season against the SMU Mustangs in Dallas, Texas in an 11:00 am game. The contest will be a nationally televised game on FX.