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Houston defeats UCF 31-24 in comeback win

The Coogs dug themselves a hole, the Knights pushed them deep into it, but the Cougars dug themselves out

NCAA Football: Central Florida at Houston Troy Taormina-USA TODAY Sports

Well, that game was a comedy of errors.

On Houston’s side, Greg Ward threw three interceptions in the first half and then the Cougars fumbled immediately to open the second half when Ward and Duke Catalon could not complete a zone-read handoff.

UCF happily reciprocated in the second half with four turnovers of its own: two interceptions and two fumbles.

Houston surged back to life and took the lead for the first time in the game with 7:27 left to play. The Cougars held on for the 31-24 win.

As my colleague Chas stated in the preview, it has not been a happy three weeks for the Cougars. They became marginally happier after the win over UCF but it wasn’t pretty and required an 21-point comeback in the second half to solidify.

In the first half, Houston looked tired and uninterested. The Cougars finished the first quarter with a no points and a net of ZERO rushing yards — and two interceptions by Ward.

On the first, his intended receiver Chance Allen fell down on the play and could not complete his route. On the second, the pass was tipped at the line of scrimmage.

Regardless, the Knights raced out to 14-3 lead and tacked on another TD before halftime to take a 21-3 lead into the break.

UCF outgained Houston on the ground in the first half 95 yards to -12 yards. Yes, the Cougars totaled negative rushing yards in the first half thanks to three sacks on Ward and a muffed snap that lost eight yards.

UH had no fire. No passion. No running game. No downfield strikes. No fluidity. The Cougars also gave up big penalties at bad times that helped UCF sustain drives.

The Knights mounted scoring drives of 47, 54 and 82 yards in the first half. Ironically, as you’ll see by the final rushing totals, all three TDs came on the ground: one by Jawon Hamilton, one by Adrian Killins and one by Dontravious Wilson.

But that was where the good times stopped for UCF. The second half was a complete and total role reversal — except for Houston’s first drive.

The Cougars gave the sparse crowd even less to cheer about by fumbling 36 seconds into the third quarter. UCF banked a field goal to go ahead 24-3

But then Houston came to life.

The Coogs scored 28 unanswered points in the second half to claim the victory.

Ward rushed in a QB keeper to get things started after the UCF field goal.

24-10 — UCF

Houston’s Nick Thurman forced a fumble on UCF’s next drive that was recovered by Steven Taylor.

Brandon Wilson ended the Knights’ next drive with an interception and Ward found tight end Romello Booker in the back of the end zone for Houston’s next TD.

24-17 — UCF

UCF moved the ball on its next drive ... but then a bad snap sailed past quarterback McKenzie Milton and he recovered it for a 13-yard loss that forced a punt.

Two drives later, Wilson picked off Milton again. Both teams struggled through the end of the third quarter, but Houston started scoring again in the fourth.

Catalon, who was helped off the field in the first half with what looked to be a painful left leg injury, busted a run around the left side for a 12-yard touchdown.


Milton was sacked and threw two incomplete passes and the ball returned to Houston.

Ward, Catalon and Dillon Birden worked the ball down the field and the drive ended with a 14-yard TD rush by Ward with 7:27 left in the game.

31-24 — Houston

Thus ended the scoring.

Overall, it was a rough game on both sides. Houston had just enough in the second half to grab the win.

The Cougars gave up four sacks. The Knights gave up three. Both teams turned the ball over four times. The most devastating part for UCF was that it rushed for a net of just 40 yards.

But the highlight for the Knights was that receiver Tre’Quan Smith hauled in 13 passes for 137 yards, a personal best. He found open holes in the Houston secondary and when Milton had time to pass, Smith was hard to stop.

NEXT WEEK: Houston has a bye. UCF is back home to face Tulane.