After nearly a month off from playing, the UCF football team got things started quickly on Monday afternoon, scoring 21 points in the first eight minutes on the way to 48-25 victory over Marshall at the 2019 Bad Boy Mowers Gasparilla Bowl at Raymond James Stadium.
“It was important to finish the season the right way,” UCF head coach Josh Heupel said in the post-game press conference. “We talked a lot about the seniors leaving a legacy.
“Turnovers by the defense were critical early,” Heupel went on to say. “It created space between us and them on the scoreboard.”
Two of the Knights’ (10-3) first three scores came from the defense, as Richie Grant snagged his first pick of the season and returned it 39 yards for a touchdown on the third play from scrimmage.
After punts from both teams, freshman Dillon Gabriel led a 6-play, 65-yard drive that culminated with a 26-yard Greg McCrae touchdown to put the Knights up 14-0 less than six minutes into the game.
Marshall (8-5) then began a drive at its own 21-yard line and advanced it to UCF’s 40-yard line, before the Knights defense struck again. Tre’Mon Morris-Brash knocked down a backwards pass and picked it up to record the first forced fumble and the first fumble recovery of his career. Better than that, he then ran 55 yards to the end zone to give his team a 21-0 advantage it never looked back from.
A penalty-riddled, defensive-minded second quarter came and went with the Knights went into the locker room with a 24-7 lead.
The offense took its turn after the break, as the two teams totaled 39 combined points in the third quarter. Following the hour-long period, UCF found itself leading 45-25.
Gabriel, who was named the game’s Most Valuable Player after the win, hit Otis Anderson on a 4th-and-7 screen pass that went 35 yards to paydirt to get things started in the quarter. Gabriel also rushed for a score and connected with Marlon Williams on a 75-yard score down the sideline to give the Knights a 45-25 lead heading into the final frame.
The Knights’ offense controlled the clock and the defense kept the Herd at bay in the fourth quarter. Dylan Barnas’s second field goal of the game, at the 9:01 mark, was the lone score of the period, and UCF left Tampa with the 48-25 victory over its former rival.
The Knights now lead Marshall 9-3 in the all-time series, winning each of the last nine meetings between the two teams, who used to compete against each other in Conference USA.
UCF improved to 5-6 in bowl games and have won two of their last three bowls, having defeated Auburn in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl back in 2017.
The Knights’ 586 yards of total offense and 310 yards rushing both marked program records in a bowl game, while the 48 points were just four points shy of the 52 scored against Baylor in the 2014 Tostitos Fiesta Bowl.
The defense totaled five turnovers on the day, another UCF bowl-game record.
Antwan Collier was involved in three of them. The junior had an interception and recovered two fumbles, one forced by Grant and the other by Aaron Robinson. Grant had 10 tackles, an interception and a forced fumble in the win.
Nate Evans led the Knights with 12 tackles in his final game with UCF, adding a sack, a break-up and three hurries. Morris-Brash also added two tackles for loss to his forced fumble and recovery.
The game’s MVP, Gabriel finished the day 14-of-24 for 260 yards passing with two touchdowns and no interceptions. The true freshman also added a scored on the ground.
McCrae led the record-breaking ground attack with 80 yards and a score, while Bentavious Thompson had 74 yards on nine carries, Anderson added 61 yards, Darriel Mack Jr. had 58 and Trillion Coles chipped in with 40.
Williams led the Knights with seven receptions for 132 yards and the score, while Anderson had five receptions for 69 yards and one score. Tre Nixon added two catches for 54 yards in the win.
UCF finished the 2019 season at 10-3, the program’s third straight 10-win season, a first for UCF.
“”It means we got three 10-win seasons,” Heupel said. “But I think you look at this season’s record, there’s goals that we didn’t accomplish. I hope we never get to the point as a program and a fanbase that our success isn’t really appreciated.”