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Tulsa rallies in Orlando to stun UCF for second-straight season, 34-26

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Golden Hurricane outscore Knights 29-3 to close the game and break UCF’s 21-game Bounce House winning streak.

NCAA Football: Tulsa at Central Florida Mary Holt-USA TODAY Sports

The atmosphere changed from a Friday night in the plains of Tulsa to one of the most intimidating atmospheres in college football at the Bounce House in Orlando.

But the Tulsa Golden Hurricane saw déjà vu from their historic night last November. For the second year in a row, Tulsa trailed UCF by 11 at halftime. For the second year in a row, Tulsa’s defense suffocated UCF to just three second half points. And for the second year in a row, a double-digit underdog Tulsa squad knocked off UCF.

Starting the absurd scoring run in the final minute of the first half, Tulsa accounted for 29 of the final 32 points in the 34-26 win in Orlando. The Golden Hurricane snapped No. 11 UCF’s 21-game winning streak at the Bounce House — the second longest home stretch in college football behind Clemson. In fact, it was Tulsa which recorded the last opposing victory in the venue back in 2016. The Golden Hurricane improve to an impressive 9-3 against the Knights all-time with a 4-0 record in the Philip Montgomery era.

Saturday night presented an abnormal atmosphere at the 4+ hour spectacle in the Bounce House. With 25% of full capacity permitted, the bouncing wasn’t shaking the stadium at its usual magnitude and the atmosphere was dampened by an endless downpour.

Wallowing in the pouring rain, the start to the evening couldn’t have been more disastrous for Tulsa. The Golden Hurricane’s first 10 snaps included two lost fumbles, one interception, and an allowed safety in their own end zone. UCF, despite the offense struggling to move the ball at its usual pace, capitalized with a 16-0 lead due to the Knight defense providing countless opportunities.

Tulsa needed a spark down 16 on the road, and that spark would come in the form of star outside linebacker Zaven Collins. One week after terrorizing the Oklahoma State backfield with three sacks, Collins broke through the UCF line to force a safety on running back Otis Anderson. The potential All-American linebacker was wreaking havoc everywhere on Saturday night, finishing with a loaded stat-line of 10 tackles, 3.5 tackles for loss, one interception, and one forced safety.

Moments after earning two points on the scoreboard, Tulsa sustained the momentum after Anderson coughed the ball up on a punt return. While the Golden Hurricane only managed a field goal off the turnover, the muffed punt commenced a mistake-riddled night for the No. 11 team in the country. The Knights briefly extended their lead to 23-5, but Tulsa opened up the passing game right before the half.

Quarterback Zach Smith hooked up with wide receiver Josh Johnson a seam route from the slot with 54 seconds left in the half. Johnson outran UCF’s coverage and sliced the Golden Hurricane deficit to 11 at halftime. Head coach Josh Heupel typically runs one of the fastest offenses in college football, but the Knights surprisingly elected to run out the clock with roughly one minute remaining and two timeouts to spare before the half.

That decision would quickly backfire as UCF running back Johnny Richardson was stripped while running back the third quarter kickoff. After Smith’s success with the deep ball right at the end of the second quarter, he aired another one out one play after the defense recorded the takeaway. Wide receiver Sam Crawford Jr. was the recipient this time, and Tulsa only trailed 23-19 just 11 seconds into the third quarter.

Tulsa’s defense made a name for itself in Week 3 at Oklahoma State, and the unit did so again in Orlando. The Golden Hurricane limited UCF to a field goal on the ensuing drive and held the Knights’ 50-points per game offense to zero in the final 11:16 of clock time.

With the defense managing to stop UCF at will, Smith and the offense obtained the blueprint to record the upset. Tulsa appeared destined to tie the game at 26 apiece after pounding the ball in the end zone with running back T.K. Wilkerson, but the ongoing kicking woes continued for the Golden Hurricane. Kicker Zack Long doinked the extra point off the upright, so Tulsa continued to trail, 26-25. But considering UCF’s 23-5 advantage earlier in the contest, the Golden Hurricane were in complete control.

Smith later fired his third touchdown pass of the night to wide receiver Keylon Stokes (six receptions, 95 yards) in the early fourth quarter to propel Tulsa in front for the first time. The senior quarterback finished strong with 273 yards and three touchdowns after a nightmare-filled first quarter. The Golden Hurricane later added a field goal by Long to the scoring effort to cap off their 29-3 run and complete the landmark upset.

UCF blew an 11-point halftime lead in consecutive years to Tulsa, and a lot of it was self-destruction. The Knights were flagged 19 times for over 120 yards, tying the record for most penalties by a top 15 team in the last 15 seasons. Out of all UCF penalties, the most deflating call was a targeting foul on wide receiver Ja’Cyais Credle when the Knights’ offense was moving down field with a 26-25 lead. But deflating penalties are nothing new to UCF-Tulsa games — UCF was called for 15 penalties for 120 yards, so Tulsa won the rematch in a very similar manner.

Tulsa not only broke the Bounce House winning streak, but the Golden Hurricane became the first team to intercept UCF sophomore quarterback Dillon Gabriel in Orlando, courtesy of Zaven Collins. The defense was phenomenal in Week 3, limiting Oklahoma State’s juggernaut of an offense to one touchdown. But in Week 5, the Golden Hurricane lived up to the challenge once more with 10 tackles for loss, three takeaways, and seven forced punts — proving they are a force in a wide-open American Conference.

Also, for the first time since downing No. 24 Hawaii in the 2010 Hawaii Bowl, Tulsa defeated a ranked opponent. The Golden Hurricane hope to make it consecutive wins over top 15 teams when No. 15 Cincinnati pays a visit to the state of Oklahoma on Oct. 17.