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Orlando, Fla. • The last pass of Christian Stewart's first start fell incomplete, and BYU's quarterback trudged off the field, helmet in hand.

After all the tumult of the previous week, the senior QB from Orem almost delivered a victory that restored some portion of BYU's misshapen season. In the end Thursday night, he fell short in a 31-24 overtime loss to Central Florida.

Nobody could say Stewart lost this game — or that he played well enough for BYU to win, either. The scoreboard tells the story of this episode, for him and the Cougars. BYU couldn't hold a 24-10 lead that Stewart helped build with three touchdown passes in the first six minutes of the third quarter. Stewart couldn't finish a promising drive late in regulation. And he couldn't match UCF's overtime touchdown.

Yet in a weird way, taking injured quarterback Taysom Hill — and running back Jamaal Williams, in this case — out of the BYU offense makes what remains of this season more interesting, increasing the schedule's degree of difficulty just enough.

The Cougars (4-2) remain something of a curiosity, just differently so.

"When Taysom got hurt, our team changed on the spot … we are in the process of discovering ourselves at the moment," said offensive coordinator Robert Anae.

When Stewart's mother, Diane, signed for her player-guest ticket outside Gate 11 of Bright House Networks Stadium and a BYU administrator asked how she was doing, she replied, "Nervous."

That's understandable.

All her son was being asked to do was fill in for a Heisman Trophy hopeful and salvage BYU's once-promising season, now that Hill was sidelined with a fractured leg.

After a rough start, Stewart was happy about being "actually able to play like myself and make plays and have fun out there," he said.

BYU learned that Stewart can perform at a reasonable level against a good defense, as he completed 22 of 37 passes for 153 yards and ran for 52 yards. If not for Alge Brown's fumble to begin the fourth quarter with BYU leading 24-17, the Cougars may have seized this game.

Instead, UCF tied it and Stewart's offense couldn't win it.

"We just couldn't get back into rhythm in the fourth quarter," Anae said.

Before that, BYU responded to its first loss of the season by quickly encountering more adversity, falling behind 10-0 and losing Williams and two defensive starters to injury, from an already depleted group.

Nothing encouraging happened in the first quarter for Stewart and the BYU offense. Three possessions consisted of nine total plays and 4 net yards. In the second quarter, BYU had a scoring chance, but Stewart's pass intended for Mathews was intercepted in the end zone. After a nice drive, a fumble on Stewart's exchange with Paul Lasike made BYU settle for a field goal.

Starting the third quarter, BYU's offense looked completely different — almost like the old days of September. Stewart delivered three TD passes to a pair of unlikely sources, one to receiver Colby Pearson and two to tight end Devin Mahina to make it 24-10, with the help of two UCF turnovers.

But the offense blew another scoring chance with Brown's fumble at the UCF 13-yard line. Later, in a tie game, Stewart converted a third-down play with a 12-yard completion to Mahina and BYU drove to the UCF 37, but was forced to punt.

Even before overtime, that pretty much ended Stewart's opportunity for a storybook finish. Then came the fourth-down pass in OT, intended for Jordan Leslie, that triggered UCF's celebration.

The outcome left Stewart somewhere between encouraged and discouraged, knowing that by December when BYU returns to Florida for a bowl game to conclude his career, he'll be a better quarterback.

Twitter: @tribkurt

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