ORLANDO — As a tight spiral from Shane
Carden descended into the waiting hands of Justin Hardy as he ran down
the East sideline in the first quarter at Central Florida on Thursday
night the Pirates were looking good.
Two ECU possessions had produced a 14-0
lead with Carden completing a game-opening drive with a 7-yard touchdown
run. Then on the first play of the Pirates' second series, Carden's deep
ball to Hardy went for a 76-yard score.
"We were playing great, moving the ball
great," Carden said. "We were hitting them down field. We were running
the ball decently."
The ECU quarterback said it was a point
of emphasis to start fast. That mission was accomplished with a
But UCF's Quincy McDuffie had a pin for
the Pirates' early balloon.
His 99-yard kickoff for a TD in
response to the bomb from Carden to Hardy was a game changer. McDuffie
broke out of traffic and angled across the field to give the crowd of
32,181 something to get off the metal bleachers about with 5:55 left in
the first quarter.
"I thought we had some momentum early,"
said ECU coach Ruffin McNeill. "We got some special teams mishaps and we
Coaches talk endlessly about responding
to adversities but the Pirates never got the wind back in their sails as
they slipped to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in Conference USA as UCF took a
"We have to regain it back when that
does happen," McNeill said.
The Knights used a 32-yard punt return
by J.J. Worton to the ECU 40 as a springboard for the tying score. UCF
pulled even as Storm Johnson went four yards to the end zone early in
the second quarter.
The ECU defense forced UCF to settle
for field goals of 22, 23 and 36 yards from Shawn Moffitt for its next
The Pirates had similar problems in the
red zone, which led to field goals of 27 and 31 yards by Warren Harvey.
The boots by Harvey got ECU within 20-17 at the half and 23-20 with 8:30
left in the third quarter.
Then McDuffie left Pirates in his wake
again, taking a short pass from Blake Bortles down the left sideline for
a 64-yard score.
The Knights pushed the final margin
past the betting line in the fourth quarter with a 70-yard drive
completed by Bortles' 1-yard keeper and a 49-yard field goal by Moffitt.
McNeill didn't feel like the game swung
exclusively on ECU's demise. He gave a lot of credit to UCF.
"We played a team that I think is going
to look very good when we see them on film," said the Pirates coach. "We
think we have a very good football team, too. We'll bounce back and
we'll be ready to go."
Inside linebacker Jeremy Grove led ECU
with four solo tackles and five assists for involvement in nine stops.
He didn't try to sugar coat the outcome.
"They beat us straight up," Grove said.
"They ran on us. They passed on us. ... A couple of big plays and they
got the momentum. It stayed with them the rest of the game."
The Knights had 436 total yards to 362
for the Pirates. Carden completed 23 of 36 for 298 yards with one TD and
one interception. Bortles completed 15 of 21 for 269 yards with one
score and no picks. Bortles was also UCF's top rusher with six carries
for 62 yards and a TD.
The focus inevitably shifts to Memphis,
which will be ECU's homecoming opponent on Oct. 13.
The Pirate coaches will do some
recruiting before the team begins preparations for the Tigers on Sunday.
View box score and statistics on ucfathletics.com