ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)RJ Harvey had a 17-yard touchdown run with 48 seconds remaining, sending UCF to a 25-21 win over No. 20 Cincinnati on Saturday.
Harvey’s go-ahead TD capped a seven-play, 75-yard march directed by Mikey Keene. The backup quarterback was 4 for 4 for 57 yards on the drive.
”We have our plays that we go through during the week so it’s like second nature to us,” Keene said. ”I just try to put the ball in a good place and let the guys go out there and make plays.”
Cincinnati (6-2, 3-1) had won 19 straight American Athletic Conference games, including victories in the past two league championship games.
Cincinnati took a 21-18 lead with 3:04 remaining. Ryan Montgomery scored on a 39-yard touchdown run, and the Bearcats added the 2-point conversion on a Ben Bryant pass to Tyler Scott.
”We didn’t get it done tonight, it wasn’t from a lack of will or a lack of fight,” Cincinnati coach Luke Fickell said. ”We just got exposed in some situations where we have to be a lot better.”
UCF (6-2, 3-1) took a 10-6 lead into halftime on the strength of a 26-yard touchdown run by Harvey. The Knights added a safety in the third quarter when Josh Celiscar sacked Bryant in the end zone.
Cincinnati had won six in a row since a season-opening loss to Arkansas. Bryant passed for 298 yards and a touchdown, and Montgomery had a team-high 40 yards rushing on three carries.
Harvey had 18 carries for 84 yards for UCF. The Knights finished with 258 yards on the ground and 247 through the air.
”We talked all week that the most physical team is going to win this game,” UCF coach Gus Malzahn said. ”We had to get ready for a fistfight. … We beat a championship program.”
Following a fumble recovery, Bryant threw a 14-yard touchdown to Josh Whyte to make it 13-12 at the end of the third quarter. Whyte’s TD capped a 10-play, 84-yard drive.
”They battled, they fought, but we weren’t at our best today,” Fickell said. ”We found a way to get ourselves into the game. It was back-and-forth.”
UCF quarterback John Rhys Plumlee was 7 of 11 for 71 yards when he was knocked out of the game late in the first half. He also rushed for 31 yards.
”He couldn’t come back in,” Malzahn said. ”I think he had a concussion. He got hit pretty hard over there and was a little wobbly.”
GOING TO THE GROUND
UCF outgained Cincinnati 258-35 on the ground. UCF had three players with over 50 yards rushing. Isaiah Bowser had 58 yards and a touchdown, and Ryan O’Keefe had 51 yards on six carries.
Keene credited the team’s offensive line for its rushing success.
”We’ve got the backs to make stuff happen, but they got the holes today,” Keene said. ”The offensive line was great and pushed their defense back.”
Malzahn said Keene’s confidence never wavered despite losing the quarterback battle to Plumlee in the offseason. He continued to practice as if he were going to be the starting quarterback each week.
”For him to step up in that moment and seize the moment on that last drive, that dude’s a winner with a capital `W,”’ Malzahn said. ”We’re walking in at halftime he said `Coach, I got your back,’ that’s just who the guy is.”
Keene was 7-3 as a starter last season, but lost to Cincinnati, 56-21. … UCF’s last win over a ranked opponent was in 2018, a 38-13 win over No. 19 Cincinnati.
Cincinnati: Outside of Montgomery’s touchdown run, the Bearcats couldn’t get anything established on the ground.
”Sometimes things aren’t going well and you have to find other ways to get it done,” Fickell said. ”They forced us to throw the ball more, but that’s not how we want to play.”
UCF: Keene’s experience from starting 10 games last year as a true freshman proved to be invaluable. He walked into a tough situation, but one he was familiar with. Keene put together his best drive of the day when the Knights needed it most and kept UCF in contention for the conference championship.
Cincinnati: Hosts Navy next Saturday.
UCF: At Memphis next Saturday.
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