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UCF Falls in Heartbreaker at Texas Tech, 24-23

by Justin Wilson

LUBBOCK, Texas – Despite recording more offensive yards and limiting the Red Raiders to just three of nine on third downs, UCF football came up short against Texas Tech, 24-23, Saturday night at Jones AT&T Stadium.

In a battle for bowl eligibility, it was the Red Raiders (6-5 overall, 5-3 Big 12) that were able to secure their sixth win of the season, while the Knights (5-6, 2-6) will have another opportunity next weekend at home against Houston.

UCF’s offense compiled 487 yards, while Texas Tech tallied 446. It marked the eighth time this season that the Black and Gold have surpassed 400 yards in a game. Defensively, the Knights’ defense stood tall against one of the conference’s top offenses, holding Texas Tech scoreless in the first quarter and limiting the Red Raiders to 10 points in the second half.

“Disappointing loss for us,” said UCF head coach Gus Malzahn. “There are a couple things that stand out, obviously not scoring before halftime that was a tough deal. We missed a field goal and then had a blocked extra point when we had the momentum, which we haven’t had all year so that was tough.

"Defensively, we battled all day. Overall, disappointing loss and now we have to go back home and try to find a way to win against Houston to get bowl eligible."

Trailing 24-17 with 6:13 remaining in the game, UCF needed a score and the offense delivered as quarterback John Rhys Plumlee hit wide receiver Javon Baker along the sideline and Baker raced 71 yards for the touchdown. Looking to knot the score at 24, Texas Tech’s defensive front had a great push and E’Maurion Banks got a hand on Colton Boomer's PAT attempt to block it and keep the Red Raiders ahead, 24-23.

From there, Texas Tech turned it over to running back Tahj Brooks, who entered the game ranked fifth nationally in rushing yards, and he was able to pick up a couple first downs to help the Red Raiders run out the clock and hang on for the one-point victory.

UCF rushed for 238 yards to eclipse 200 yards for the eighth time in 11 games and passed for 241 yards, while Texas Tech logged 190 rushing yards and 256 passing yards. The Knights held a 31:57 to 28:03 advantage in the time of possession and were 9 of 15 on third downs, but unfortunately it did not translate to a win.

For the fifth time this season and first time on the road, UCF scored a touchdown on its opening possession as the Knights ran eight plays for 75 yards, capped off by a four-yard rushing touchdown from RJ Harvey. It marked the third consecutive game that Harvey has found the end zone.

Facing a fourth down and three on the Texas Tech 28-yard line a few drives later, UCF successfully faked a field goal to pick up the first down and extend the drive. Holder Mitch McCarthy flipped a backward toss to Boomer, who raced 24 yards down the sideline nearly scoring a touchdown but stepped out of bounds at the five-yard line. Two plays later, Harvey scored from the one-yard line to push the Knights’ lead to 14-0.

Texas Tech responded with a touchdown-scoring drive, as Red Raiders quarterback Behren Morton found Drae McCray in the back of the end zone for a 15-yard TD pass to trim the margin to 14-7. After a UCF punt, Tech evened the score at 14-14 following a nine-play, 93-yard touchdown drive. Morton connected with McCray for a 26-yard gain and then found tight end Mason Tharp on the next play for a 19-yard TD.

The Knights put together a great next drive but were unable to get any points out of it, as the clock expired with UCF driving on the five-yard line and the scored was knotted at 14 at halftime.

The teams traded punts out of intermission before a Nikai Martinez interception halted Texas Tech’s second drive in the third quarter. UCF has now tallied a turnover in 10 of its 11 games this season and Martinez owns a team-leading three interceptions.

The Knights looked to convert the turnover into points on their next drive following a couple of great catches from Xavier Townsend and Baker, respectively. Boomer came on to attempt a 32-yard field goal, but his kick caromed off the uprights and was no good.

Just before the end of the third quarter, Brooks broke lose for a 13-yard touchdown run as Tech took a 21-14 lead. The score marked the first time that UCF had trailed since the first quarter of the Cincinnati game, a span of more than 100 minutes without trailing.

UCF responded with a great drive but couldn’t punch it into the end zone and was forced to settle for a field goal to cut the margin to 21-17. The defense came up with a big stop on third and 10 to force a 51-yard field goal but reigning Big 12 Special Teams Player of the Week Gino Garcia drilled it to push the Red Raiders’ lead to 24-17.

Plumlee was 16 of 32 for 249 yards passing with a touchdown and an interception, while his counterpart, Morton, was 21 of 35 for 246 with two TDs and an interception. Harvey saw his streak of five straight games with at least 100 yards rushing come to an end, as Texas Tech held him to 78 yards on 20 carries with a pair of touchdowns.

Baker had four catches for 118 yards with a touchdown, while Townsend had four receptions for 38 yards and Kobe Hudson recorded two catches for 52 yards.

Defensively, Walter Yates led the Knights with nine tackles, all solo, while Jason Johnson added eight. Texas Tech linebacker Jacob Rodriguez was the leading tackler in the game with 12 stops, including seven solo.

UCF will return to action next weekend for its Senior Knight against Houston. Kickoff is set for noon from FBC Mortgage Stadium on FS1.