ORLANDO — Central Florida drove 64 yards to score on a 1-yard run by Mark-Antony Richards with 23 seconds left for a 20-16 win over East Carolina at Spectrum Stadium on Saturday night.
The Pirates got field goals from Owen Daffer from 29, 23 and 34 yards in falling to 3-3 overall and 1-1 in the American Athletic Conference.
A 27-yard touchdown pass from Holton Ahlers to Audie Omotosho gave ECU a 13-10 lead with 2:43 to go in the third quarter.
The Knights (3-2, 1-1) pulled within 16-13 with 5:06 remaining on a 40-yard field goal by Daniel Obarski, his third 3-pointer of the game. The Pirates went 3-and-out on their ensuing possession and punted from their own 26.
True freshman quarterback Mikey Keene directed the decisive drive, which began with 3:39 to go.
“When we look at it tomorrow, it’s going to be one play here and one play there,” said third-year ECU coach Mike Houston. “I feIf like that was the ball game. If we could have gotten a stop there (on the final UCF drive), obviously, the game’s over.
“We didn’t. We still should have gotten a stop there on that drive. We never should have given up the touchdown. We had the right calls. You’ve got to make the plays.”
The game was tied at 3 at halftime.
“What a performance by the offensive line there in the second half, against a very, very good defensive front,” Houston said. “That’s a good defensive football team.
“You have to get touchdowns. … We had two drives in the first quarter and came away with no points. I had a bad feeling there after those two drives. I was hoping it wouldn’t come back to bite us, but it did.”
The Knights had a 359-349 edge in total yards. Ahlers completed 20 of 32 for 208 yards with one TD and one pick. ECU had three turnovers to one for the hosts.
Rahjai Harris ran 13 times for 73 yards and Keaton Mitchell had 17 carries for 65 yards.
Tyler Snead had six catches for 82 yards.
Redshirt freshman safety Juan Powell had five solo tackles, an assist and an interception for the Pirates.
Mitchell lost a fumble at the UCF 10 on ECU’s first series. Jonn Young punted from the Knights’ 39 on the Pirates’ second possession.
“Hats off to UCF,” Houston said. “They made the plays in the fourth quarter. I hate that there had to be a loser.”
UCF took a 51-28 win in Greenville last season with Dillon Gabriel at quarterback. Gabriel has not played this season since an injury in a 42-35 loss at Louisville on Sept. 17.
ECU has an open date before a game Oct. 23 at Houston. The Cougars (5-1, 3-0) also have a bye week after a 40-22 win at Tulane on Thursday night.
“We’ve got a good football team,” Houston said. “We’ll have a lot of games like this in this conference, where it’s going to come down to the last drive. This is a tough league.
“I told the kids two years ago (at UCF), it was 35-7 at the half. … The good thing is these kids play the game the right way. They play hard. They play with intensity. We’ve just got to make those plays there in the closing moments to win those games. UCF made the plays and we didn’t.”