Texas holds off Central Florida 35-32 in rare Sunshine State appearance
ORLANDO, Fla. (AP)—Thanks to Central Florida, it may be a while before Texas accepts another offer to open someone’s new stadium.
Colt McCoy threw 259 yards and two touchdowns and Jamaal Charles scored on a 46-yard run Saturday to clinch a 35-32 victory over UCF. The Longhorns’ first trip to the Sunshine State in 34 years was anything but a smooth journey.
The jaunt started with a long delay at the Austin airport on Friday, then got more frustrating when one of the team buses broke down in Orlando. Things didn’t get any easier against an opponent excited to be showing off its new home on national television.
“There was a tremendous atmosphere. I told the kids today I didn’t think they understood what they were about to get into,” Texas coach Mack Brown said. “It was a trap game for us and a buzzsaw.”
Ryan Bailey kicked five field goals for Texas (3-0), which regrouped after squandering a 13-point lead to fall behind 24-23 early in the fourth quarter. Bailey put the Longhorns ahead for good, then tied a school record with a fifth field goal that made it 29-24 with 5:19 left.
Charles, who rushed 153 yards on 22 carries, put the Longhorns up 35-24 with his long run after cornerback Marcus Griffin recovered a UCF fumble. The running back was trying to help the Longhorns kill the clock when he fumbled for the second time, giving UCF one more chance to get back in the game.
Kyle Isreal’s 7-yard TD pass to Kamar Aiken and a 2-point conversion trimmed UCF’s deficit to three with 35 seconds left. But Brandon Foster, who scored on a 33-yard interception return in the second quarter, recovered the ensuing onside kick to seal the victory.
“I don’t like the fact we let them get back into the game and got behind, but I really like the fact that we responded and came down like good teams do,” Brown said after McCoy led scoring drives on three straight possessions after UCF went ahead.
McCoy completed 32 of 47 passes and was intercepted once. Quan Cosby had 10 receptions for 67 yards for the Longhorns, who hadn’t played a game in Florida since losing 20-15 to Miami in 1973.
“It was a tough environment for us to play,” McCoy said, noting that a 15-minute delay because of lightning and heavy rain posed problems, too. “I give them credit. They stuck with it and we never finished the game.”
Kevin Smith ran for 149 yards and scored on runs on 2 and 3 yards for UCF (1-1). Isreal finished 9-of-26 for 134 yards, one TD and one interception.
UCF played its first 28 seasons in the Florida Citrus Bowl in downtown Orlando, about 15 miles east of the Knights’ sprawling campus. The $55 million, 43,323-seat facility was a long-range goal that coach George O’Leary put on a fast track after being hired in 2004.
The crowd of 45,622 was the fourth largest in UCF history. However, that would have been only a slightly more than half-full house at the Citrus Bowl.
“I think the dynamics and what is going to take place here is great. … We have a great future in that stadium. I told our players I don’t want to ever walk off that field again without protecting our home,” O’Leary said.
The former Georgia Tech coach pulled off one of the biggest turnarounds in college football history two years ago, guiding UCF to the first bowl appearance in school history after going 0-11 in his first season in Orlando.
A 4-8 finish in 2006 was a disappointment, but hardly discouraged O’Leary about the direction of his program.
With Smith running for 217 yards and two touchdowns, the Knights opened this season with a 25-23 victory at North Carolina State two weeks ago. They led Texas 7-3 after Smith’s 2-yard, first-quarter TD run, and appeared to be letting the game slip away before rallying from a 23-10 deficit in the third quarter.
“Right now, obviously you’re going to wish we had won that game,” Isreal said. “But when I come back here in 20 years, I’m going to realize how special it was being the quarterback to play in the first game. That’s something no one will ever be able to take away.”