Central Florida used another strong defensive performance to top the Houston Cougars 17-12 on Thursday night. The Knights forced three turnovers and used one of those to score a vital touchdown. Their most important turnover for the Knights was the final one that prevented Houston from scoring a touchdown in the final 30 seconds to prevent the Cougars from stealing the win.
The game started off well for Houston. They forced Jackie Williams to fumble and recovered the ball, which led to 39 yard field goal from Kyle Bullard. Houston had a great chance to add to their lead in the final minutes of the first quarter. The Cougars had a first and goal at the two yard line, but were unable to punch the ball, including an incomplete pass by John O'Korn on fourth and goal. That play was a microcosm of Central Florida's defense: bend, but do not break.
The lackluster offensive affair continued into the second quarter. With a little over 12 minutes left in the first half, Clayton Geathers picked off O'Korn's pass to set up the Knights at the Houston 25 yard line. Five plays later, Justin Holman hit Jackie Williams for the 6 yard touchdown pass and Central Florida took the 7-3 lead.
Houston would add another field goal from Bullard to make it 7-6 prior to the end of the first half.
Central Florida extended their lead on their second drive of the third quarter. It took only one play as Holman hit Breshad Perriman for the 52 yard touchdown to make it a 14-6 lead. Perriman caught the pass, made his man miss on the tackle, and outran the safety for the score. Their next drive produced a 42 field goal from Shawn Moffitt to extend the lead to 17-6.
Bullard's 51 yard field goal early in the fourth quarter would make it an uneasy finish for the Knights, especially as their offense continued to struggle. Bullard added a 49 yarder on the next Houston drive to close the deficit to 17-12.
With under three minutes remaining, Houston was led down the field by Greg Ward Jr. After a holding penalty set the Cougars back to their own 20, Ward Jr. decided to try and run for the end zone on first and goal. He showed off his moves as he ran past defenders and made others miss completely, but as he dove for the end zone, the ball was knocked out by Brandon Alexander and went out of the end zone for a touchback.
It was a fitting end for the Knights, as their offense struggled to find consistency all game.
Justin Holman went 6 of 18 for 101 yards and 2 touchdowns for the Knights. He also ran for 32 yards on 9 carries. William Stanback carried the ball 14 times for 44 yards. Dontravious Wilson had 7 carries for 36 yards.
Holman completed his 6 passes to 6 different receivers. Breshad Perriman had one catch for 52 yards and the long touchdown to lead the receivers.
Houston saw two different quarterbacks play in Greg Ward Jr. and John O'Korn. Ward Jr. went 10 of 17 for 116 yards, but also had the massive fumble that let victory slip away for the Cougars. Ward Jr. also caught one pass for 36 yards. O'Korn went 12 of 26 for 98 yards and 2 interceptions.
Ryan Jackson carried the ball 6 times for 53 yards while Kenneth Farrow had 11 carries for 50 yards.
Demarcus Ayers was the top receiver with 7 catches for 90 yards. Deontay Greenberry was held to 3 catches for 26 yards.
Central Florida (2-2, 1-0) has now won back-to-back games. They have a home game next Thursday versus BYU. Houston (2-3, 0-1) faces Memphis next week on the road looking to get back to .500 on the year.