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UCF Edged in Hard-Fought Battle at No. 6 Oklahoma, 31-29

by Justin Wilson

NORMAN, Okla. – Facing the nation’s sixth-ranked team on the road, the UCF football team was up for the challenge and led for most of the game, but No. 6 Oklahoma rallied late to earn the win as the Knights dropped a hard-fought battle, 31-29, Saturday afternoon at Gaylord Family Oklahoma Memorial Stadium.

Entering the game, the Sooners (7-0, 4-0 Big 12), which own the nation’s best home winning percentage since 1999 at 138-13 (.914), had only trailed for 12 minutes and 11 seconds total this season and the Knights (3-4, 0-4) led for 21 minutes and seven seconds.

“I’m extremely proud of our team and the way we fought. We were right there in the middle of it in the fourth quarter against one of the best teams in the country. Defensively, we played one of our best games of the season but give them credit, that’s one of the best offenses in the country. We’re disappointed we didn’t win, but we’ll finish the season strong. I can promise you that.”

Gus MalzahnUCF Football Head Coach

After Oklahoma scored to take an eight-point lead, 31-23, UCF’s offense marched down the field against the nation’s seventh-ranked scoring defense to give the Knights a chance to tie the game. Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee hit wide receiver Xavier Townsend for a 10-yard completion to start the drive and freshman tight end Randy Pittman Jr. had one of a few big plays on the drive with a 39-yard reception.

A few plays later, Plumlee found Javon Baker in the end zone for a 12-yard strike to cut the Oklahoma lead to two, 31-29. Forced to try the two-point conversion, the Knights attempted a double pass with Plumlee finding Townsend on a lateral, but the Sooners defense sniffed it out and made the tackle to prevent UCF from knotting the score at 31.

From there, the Knights nearly executed a perfect onside kick, but the Sooners' defender was able to fall on the football just seconds before a UCF player to seal the victory for Oklahoma.

After the offense struggled to find success on its first four drives of the game, it was just the opposite on its upcoming drives as UCF scored on its next five drives with a touchdown, field goal, TD, FG and FG. Oklahoma led 7-0 at the end of the first quarter, but a one-yard rush from Plumlee knotted the game at 7-7 early in the second quarter. The Knights compiled a 10-play, 74-yard drive highlighted by a 54-yard rush from RJ Harvey, his longest of the season.

The defense responded to force a Sooners punt and the Knights answered with a 12-play, 76-yard drive capped by a 21-yard Colton Boomer field goal to give UCF its first lead of the day, 10-7. Following an Oklahoma touchdown, Plumlee found Baker wide open down the sideline and he sprinted 86 yards for the touchdown on the Knights’ longest play of the season to regain the advantage at 17-14. That play is also the longest by any team in the Big 12 this year.

Oklahoma kicked a field goal as time expired in the first half, as the teams headed into the locker room knotted at 17-17. It marked the first time this season that the Sooners did not own the lead at halftime.

Following the intermission, UCF recorded its sixth turnover of the year, as defensive back Quadric Bullard snagged his first career interception and returned it 27 yards to the Oklahoma 33-yard line. Former UCF quarterback Dillon Gabriel’s pass over the middle bounced off the receiver’s hands and Bullard reeled it in with one hand, as Gabriel threw just his third interception in 2023.

Unfortunately, the Knights were not able to convert the turnover into a touchdown, but Boomer hit his second field goal of the day, drilling a 48-yarder to give UCF a 20-17 advantage and a few minutes later the Lake Mary, Florida, native hit a 46-yard FG to push the Knights’ lead to 23-17.

The Knights held Oklahoma scoreless in the third quarter, which marked just the second time the Sooners have gone scoreless in a quarter this season.

Entering the fourth quarter, Oklahoma found itself trailing for the first time heading into the final period with UCF on top, 23-17. The teams alternated punts before the Sooners scored following nine plays for 65 yards and a Gabriel TD pass to Drake Stoops to give OU its first lead since the second quarter.

Gavin Sawchuk’s 30-yard TD run pushed Oklahoma’s margin to 31-23 on its first rushing score of the game and the Knights were not able to knot the score on their ensuing drive, pushing the Sooners to the brink before coming up short.

Plumlee was 16-for-30 with 248 yards and a pair of touchdowns, while OU’s Gabriel was 25-for-38 with 253 yards and three TDs. Harvey surpassed 100 yards for the second time this season and third time in his career with 101 yards on 23 carries, while Baker hauled in five passes for 134 yards with two scores.

After missing the last game due to injury, linebacker Walter Yates III returned to the field and led the Knights with 10 tackles and Jason Johnson had nine. Defensive tackle Lee Hunter had five tackles, including 2.5 tackles for loss and a sack. Redshirt freshman Malachi Lawrence had a great game for UCF with a career-high five tackles and a sack, as the Knights' defense sacked Gabriel three times.

UCF will return to action at home next weekend when the Knights welcome West Virginia on Homecoming. Kickoff is slated for noon ET on FS1 from FBC Mortgage Stadium.