College Football

Gallery NCAA Football: Gasparilla Bowl – Central Florida 29 vs. Florida 17

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Press release from the Gasparilla Bowl
Photos by Glenn Sattell

TAMPA, FLA. — UCF battled through an injury-filled regular season to get to eight wins but it was the ninth one that the Knights will remember the most.

Behind big performances from junior receiver Ryan O’Keefe and senior running back Isaiah Bowser the Knights (9-4) used a strong second half to defeat the Florida Gators (6-7) 29-17 Thursday night in the 13th rendition of the Union Home Mortgage Gasparilla Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.

UCF trailed 10-9 at halftime but controlled play for most of the second half and outscored its in-state foe by a 20-7 margin in the final 30 minutes.

Defenses dominated the opening quarter of play before Florida capped off an eight-play, 58-yard drive with a 2-yard touchdown run by senior running back Dameon Pierce at the 1:22 mark. Prior to that scoring play, the two squads had combined for five punts and one drive stopped on downs.

UCF scored on its next two possessions and took a brief 9-7 lead. UCF’s Bowser scored from 3 yards out at the 12:29 mark to cap off a 10-play, 74-yard drive that was kept alive by a key fourth-and five conversion pass from UCF freshman quarterback Mikey Keene to senior wide receiver Nate Craig-Myers. The Knights, though, failed to take the lead as they misfired on a two-point conversion pass attempt.

After a Gators’ drive ended with a missed 51-yard field goal attempt, UCF marched down the field to gain its first lead when junior placekicker Daniel Obarski connected on a 34-yard field goal. The big play of the drive was a 34-yard run by O’Keefe that pushed the ball deep into Florida territory at the 7-yard line.

The Gators responded with a field goal of their own, a 26-yarder by senior placekicker Chris Howard with 1:36 left in the half. Florida kept that drive alive with a big third-and-18 rush of 20 yards by junior quarterback Emory Jones that pushed the ball into UCF territory.

UCF let a scoring opportunity get away on its first drive of the third quarter. Bowser broke loose for a 36-yard run on the first play from scrimmage of the period but the drive quickly stalled and the Knights missed a 51-yard field goal attempt.

The Knights didn’t let their next possession fall short, though. O’Keefe busted a reverse play for 74 yards – the longest running play in Gasparilla Bowl history – to set up a 4-yard scoring run for Bowser and UCF regained the lead at 16-10.

Florida responded promptly with a six-play, 59-yard drive that culminated in a 19-yard touchdown rush by senior running back Malik Davis that put the Gators back in front, 17-16. But UCF answered right back with a 21-yard field goal by Obarsksi wrapping up a 12-play, 55-yard drive and the Knights regained the lead for good at 19-17.

UCF pushed its lead to nine points when Keene found O’Keefe open for a 54-yard scoring pass late in the third quarter.

Florida missed a much-needed 45-yard field goal try with 7:57 left in the contest as the Gators tried to get the margin back to a one-score game. UCF then burned off over five minutes and pushed the margin to 12 points with Obarski’s third field goal of the night, a 33-yarder that made it a 29-17 game.

The UCF duo of Bowser and O’Keefe became the first teammates to rush for over 100 yards in Gasparilla Bowl history. Bowser carried the ball a Gasparilla Bowl-record 34 times for 152 yards and 2 touchdowns. O’Keefe notched his 110 yards on just 4 rushing attempts. He collected a total of 252 all-purpose yards, including 85 yards on 7 receptions and 56 yards on a pair of kickoff returns.

The win was UCF’s third in five visits to the Gasparilla Bowl, tying Marshall (3-1) for most wins in the Tampa Bay area event. Florida, just the second SEC school to appear in the Gasparilla Bowl, is now 0-1 in the 13-year-old event.

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