EL PASO, Texas (UCFAthletics.com) - Running back Latavius Murray rushed for 117 yards and ripped off a 46-yard touchdown late in the contest to lift UCF to a 31-24 victory over UTEP Saturday night at Sun Bowl Stadium.
"It was a hard-fought win, but I give (UTEP) a lot of credit," UCF head coach George O'Leary said. "I thought they played with great effort. We're just fortunate enough to make a couple more plays than they did. It will be a nice ride home. It was a very tough ballgame."
The UCF defense forced four UTEP turnovers and also came up big following a few special teams miscues to help keep the Miners at bay. Leading the defensive effort were Ray Shipman with 14 total tackles, Kemal Ishmael with 10 stops and an interception and E.J. Dunston with seven tackles, two forced fumbles and one fumble recovery.
UCF led 24-10 in the fourth quarter. But a pair of UTEP touchdowns, one on a Blair Sullivan 2-yard run and one on a 69-yard Nathan Jeffery gallop tied it at 24-24 with less than seven minutes remaining. On the ensuing possession, the Knights moved inside UTEP territory on a pass interference call. One play later, Murray squirted up the middle, broke loose and sprinted 46 yards for the game-winner.
"We knew the offense had to come back out and make a play," Murray said. "I just saw what the offensive line gave me, made a cutback and just hit the open field. We did what we had to do to make plays and get the win. The defense did what they had to do and made some big stops."
Coach O'Leary echoed Murray's sentiments about the game-winning TD run.
"That was a big one," O'Leary said. "We got some hats on people and I thought it was well-blocked. We got the touchdown, which was the difference in the game."
With the game tied 7-7 early in the second quarter, UTEP blocked a UCF punt and took over at the Knights' 1-yard line. But the Knights' defense stood tall, stonewalling two run plays and forcing an overthrow on third down. The Miners converted on a field goal to take a 10-7 lead with 12:48 left in the first half.
A muffed punt on a fair-catch attempt midway through the second quarter gave UTEP possession in UCF territory. But the Knight defense came up big again, forcing and recovering a fumble.
UCF opened the scoring on the first possession of the game. Blake Bortles scrambled to his left and found Jeff Godfrey free in the secondary for a 46-yard touchdown pass, giving the Knights a 7-0 advantage. Nathan Jeffery capped a 75-yard drive for UTEP to answer the Knights midway through the first period. A two-yard touchdown plunge for Jeffery tied the game at 7-7.
Bortles gave UCF the lead late in the second quarter. He capped an 18-play, 88-yard drive with a 2-yard bootleg around the left end to put the Knights on top 14-10 with 28 seconds left until intermission. But the Knights weren't done for the first half. A UTEP fumble was recovered by UCF's Troy Davis at the Miners' 35-yard line. UCF converted that turnover into a Shawn Moffitt 30-yard field goal to take a 17-10 advantage at halftime.
UCF had a field-goal attempt blocked late in the third quarter. But the UCF defense once again made plays when they had to. UTEP's ensuing possession stalled, forcing a 47-yard field goal attempt that was wide left.
UCF widened the margin to 24-10 early in the fourth quarter. The Knights drove 71 yards in four plays, highlighted by a Bortles-to-Rannell Hall 56-yard completion. Rob Calabrese took the snap, handed it to Quincy McDuffie, who then pitched it to Bortles, who was lined up as a wide receiver. Bortles then tossed it to Hall, who was finally dragged down inside the UTEP 20. Three plays later, Bortles scrambled 15 yards for the TD, diving across the goal line between a pair of Miner defenders.
UTEP answered that score with a 10-play, 79-yard drive. Miner QB Sullivan rushed for a two-yard score one play after a UCF interception in the end zone was taken away due to a pass interference penalty. UTEP's Nathan Jeffery tied the game at 24-24 the next time UTEP touched the ball on his 69-yard scoring run with 6:49 remaining.
That set up Murray's sprint up the middle to give UCF the lead for good.