Strong Second Half Lifts Georgia Tech Past UCF in Gasparilla Bowl

by Justin Wilson

TAMPA, Fla. – Making its third appearance in the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl, UCF couldn’t have asked for a better start as the Knights jumped out to a 17-3 lead, but Georgia Tech countered by scoring the game’s final 27 points en route to a 30-17 win Friday night at Raymond James Stadium.

The loss marked the first in UCF’s last six trips to the friendly confines of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ stadium, winning three games against South Florida and a pair of Gasparilla Bowls in the past five six years.

UCF finishes the season 6-7 overall, while Georgia Tech, making its first bowl appearance since 2018, ends the year with a 7-6 record.

“Disappointed for our seniors that we weren’t able to get them a victory, but we didn’t play good enough to win and give Georgia Tech credit. We’ve got a lot of guys in that locker room that have done a super job for our program."

Gus MalzahnUCF Football Head Coach

It was a tale of two halves for UCF, as the Knights recorded 290 yards on offense, scoring 17 points in the first half and were held to 134 yards offensively in the second half and shut out in the second half for the first time in 2023. Despite finishing the game with more offensive yards (424-371), it wasn’t enough to lift the Knights to the victory.

The Knights logged 400 or more yards offensively in 10 of their 13 games.

After scoring on three of its first four drives, the Black and Gold were unable to find the end zone again and in contrast the Yellow Jackets scored on four consecutive drives after UCF forced GT to punt on its first two drives.

UCF won the toss, elected to receive and scored just 1:23 seconds into the game as quarterback John Rhys Plumlee found wide receiver Javon Baker for a 23-yard touchdown. After announcing his return to the Knights earlier Friday afternoon on social media, the Atlanta native recorded a career-high nine catches for 173 yards, which is also a career best.

Baker also surpassed 1,000 receiving yards for the season, the only player from the Big 12 to accomplish the feat and one of just 25 nationally. He also marked the first UCF player with at least 1,000 receiving yards since Marlon Williams in 2020.

Following a stop by UCF’s defense, the Knights recorded their longest scoring drive of the season, marching 98 yards down the field on 10 plays in just 4:41. Plumlee hit Baker with consecutive big passing plays then RJ Harvey tallied a 17-yard rush to set up a 17-yard TD from Plumlee to Kobe Hudson to give UCF a 14-0 lead.

After announcing on Thursday that he would return to UCF next season, RJ Harvey opened the game strong with 58 yards in the opening quarter en route to tallying his seventh 100-yard rushing game of the season. Harvey ended the season with 1,416 rushing yards, the second most in a single season in program history.

The Knights ended the season outscoring opponents 127-57 in the first quarter of games.

Kicker Aidan Birr put Georgia Tech on the scoreboard in the second quarter, drilling a 36-yard attempt before UCF kicker Colton Boomer made from 27 yards out to push the advantage back to 14 points at 17-3. From there, it was all Yellow Jackets as GT scored a pair of quick touchdowns to knot the score at 17-17 heading into halftime.

Georgia Tech’s first drive of the second half were the lone points scored in the third quarter, as the Yellow Jackets had a few nice runs, but the Knights’ defense forced a field goal as GT took its first lead of the game at 20-17.

GT added a touchdown early in the fourth quarter and a field goal a few drives later to pull ahead by the final margin, 30-17.

Defensively, linebacker Jason Johnson tallied a game-high 13 tackles and Decorian Patterson notched seven solo tackles. Tre’mon Morris-Brash recorded six tackles and two tackles for loss.

“Overall, I’m disappointed that we weren’t to get the winning record and get the bowl victory, not just for our players but for our fans. Our fans have been great and there have been a lot of ups and downs this first year in the Big 12 and it was just a tough night.”