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Orlando, Fla. • The Cougars got the middle parts right in Thursday's nationally televised game at Central Florida.
It was the beginning and end that kept them winless in the Sunshine State, and pushed their losing skid to two after the season's phenomenal start.
That's now a distant memory, after Central Florida took the 31-24 overtime win in front of 41,547 at Bright House Networks Stadium, scoring a touchdown on its possession of the extra session. The Knights stopped the Cougars on 4th-and 3 from its 6-yard line and improved to 3-2.
"This one hurts because we really feel like we should have won that game," said BYU defensive end Remington Peck.
Quarterback Christian Stewart, making his first-ever start, said the fateful last play was supposed to go to receiver Jordan Leslie, but, "honestly, I felt like they held Jordan the whole way." Offensive coordinator Robert Anae said "it looked like [Leslie] was getting held all over the place," then said backtracked a bit and said he needs to watch the film to be sure.
Whatever the case, BYU headed back to Provo late Thursday night a defeated team, but one buoyed by the fact that a play here or there could have been the difference between 4-2 and 5-1.
"Man, I felt our team tried hard tonight, and I was encouraged by what I saw from Christian Stewart," said coach Bronco Mendenhall. "… Under all the circumstances, we had a chance to win the game in overtime, and I thought we would. I thought we had a great chance. You have to give UCF credit. It was a great college football game."
The Cougars blocked a UCF field goal attempt with under 10 seconds left in regulation that would have won the game for the Knights. But UCF got the ball first in OT and scored on a 4-yard touchdown pass to a wide open William Stanback.
Trailing 10-3 at halftime, the Cougars took the second half kickoff and drove 64 yards to knot the score. Stewart's 4-yard touchdown pass to Colby Pearson made it 10-10 with 11:56 remaining in the third quarter.
After Scott Arellano's punt bounced off a UCF player and was corralled by Algernon Brown, the Cougars struck quickly. Tight end Devin Mahina's 15-yard touchdown reception, his fifth catch of the season, gave the Cougars a 17-10 lead.
BYU made it 24-10 just 25 seconds later after Skye PoVey intercepted a pass. This time, Mahina caught a 14-yard strike from Stewart, and all the momentum was on BYU's side.
That would change quickly, however.
The Knights got a 58-yard kickoff return from Rannell Hall, and scored after convering a 4th-and-1 from the 11 to trim the Cougars' lead to seven.
BYU seemingly recovered and drove deep into UCF territory, but Algernon Brown's fumble on the first play of the fourth quarter thwarted the drive after the Cougars reached the UCF 15. Another BYU special teams breakdown, UCF's 29-yard punt return, set the Knights up to tie it at 24-24. Josh Reese's 37-yard TD catch came two plays after J.J. Wharton's big return into Cougar territory.
"That fourth quarter, we could not sustain [drives]," Anae said. "Just too many three-and-outs."
UCF's Shawn Moffitt missed a 46-yard field goal attempt with 6:11 left in the game that would have given the Knights the lead. The Cougars couldn't get anything going on the next two possessions, despite an interception by Kai Nacua, playing safety in the place of Craig Bills, who suffered a concussion in the first half.