Knights Insider UCF-Buffalo Recap


Sept. 20, 2009

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By John Denton

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If you buy into the theory that one half can turn around a season, UCF delivered the kind spectacular football over Saturday's final 30 minutes that could very well alter the course ahead.

Trailing by 10 after a somewhat listless first half on both sides of the ball, UCF responded in a big way by scoring all of the game's 16 second-half points and beat Buffalo 23-17 at Bright House Networks Stadium.

Led by steady quarterback Brett Hodges, UCF's offense converted on third down time and again and mounted four scoring drives in the second half. And UCF's defense forced three fumbles and got a pivotal interception from safety Derrick Hallman - the Knights' first pick of the season - all after halftime.

UCF (2-1) rallied from a double-digit deficit for the first time since 2005, a 12-point come-from-behind victory against Rice. And the Knights left Saturday night feeling somewhat reborn following a second-half performance that turned a possible loss into a thrilling victory.

``Our offense started really clicking in that second half,'' said Hodges, the fifth-year senior who completed all 10 of his passes in the second half. ``I really feel like our guys are starting to believe now and we're starting to get that chemistry throughout the entire team that we needed.''

The victory comes on the heels of last week's disappointing loss at Southern Miss and leading up to next Saturday's key Conference USA game at East Carolina. A win like this, head coach George O'Leary stressed, can make all the difference leading into the preparation for next week's game.

``The kids just had a confidence that we could go out there and get it done and we did,'' said O'Leary, who admitted to challenging his team verbally at the half to play better. ``We have another big conference game coming up, so a game like this will do wonders for the psyche of our (team).''

Tailback Brynn Harvey ran for 98 yards and two scores, his second multi-touchdown game of the season. And five receivers caught passes, led by blossoming junior Jamar Newsome, who had six catches. Kamar Aiken had 53 yards receiving, including a clutch over-the-shoulder catch for 39 yards on a third down play in the third quarter.

Hodges, a native of nearby Winter Springs who transferred back to his childhood team after four years at Wake Forest, saved the Knights with a flawless second half. He repeatedly kept plays alive by shuffling in the pocket, and he burned an unsuspecting Buffalo defense with 13 carries for 71 yards. His perfect 10-of-10 passing in the second half allowed him to complete 15 of 20 passes for 141 yards, but it was his running out of the ``wildcat'' formation that most were impressed with.

``I'm just not used to running the ball that much, but I felt comfortable after getting into the flow of the game,'' Hodges said. ``I'm a little banged up because I'm not used to running the football that much, but hey that's football.''

Added Buffalo coach Turner Gill, a spectacular running quarterback in his own right during his playing days at Nebraska: ``They usually run (Rob Calabrese) more than Hodges. The guy was a great runner and he moved the chains. He kept drives going and those kinds of drives were a killer for us.''

Picking up where Hodges left off, UCF's defense did the rest. Senior defensive end Jarvis Geathers recorded three sacks and forced two fumbles. Buffalo's final two drives were stopped by Geathers' sack/forced fumble plays - loose balls that were recovered by Darius Nall and Torrell Troup.

Hallman, who had been critical of his play through the first two games, made a game-saving interception on a fourth-and-eight play with 3 minutes remaining. His interception was UCF's first of the season and fulfilled a promise he had made to his teammates earlier in the week.

Said the junior safety, who also forced a fumble: ``I guaranteed that we'd get a turnover and I had to stay true to my word. The coaches told us at halftime that if we didn't want to finish this game the right way that we shouldn't follow them out of the locker room for the second half.''

The 1958 University at Buffalo team that refused a bid to the Tangerine Bowl when it was asked by Orlando leaders to not include its two African-American players was honored at halftime.

Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty spearheaded the movement to honor the team 51 years later with a trip to Orlando, securing sponsorships so that 34 of the 41 living players, coaches and staff could attend the game. Gerry Gergley, a 2003 UCF Hall of Fame inductee and a halfback on the '58 Buffalo team, was among the players honored.

``The world isn't a pure place quite yet, but we have made a lot of progress since then,'' Gergley said.

A promising start to the game for UCF ended in frustration at the half with the Knights trailing 17-7 at the break.

UCF linebacker Lawrence Young stuffed Buffalo's fourth-and-one run on the first possession of the game, giving the Knights some early momentum. From there, UCF marched systematically down the field in 14 plays.

Hodges converted three third down plays on the opening drive, two with his feet and another on a 7-yard pass to Jamar Newsome. Tailback Brynn Havery capped the 68-yard, 6-minute, 13-second drive with a 2-yard burst over right end to put UCF up 7-0.

Buffalo scored the next 17 points of the second quarter to take a 10-point lead into halftime. But the game changed entirely in the second half when UCF delivered the kind of performance that just might save its season.

``We've always tried to be a team that puts things behind us if things aren't going right,'' defensive end Bruce Miller said. ``We did that in this game. We went out and turned what could have been a loss into a win for us. That's huge.''

John Denton's Knights Insider runs each Monday, Wednesday and Friday on UCFAthletics.com. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.edu.