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Tulsa takes title and Liberty Bowl bid

UCF likely headed to Hawaii Bowl after coming up short on home field

Final Conference USA Football Standings
GMAC Bowl pairs 8-3 UTEP against 8-3 Toledo
• Tulsa-UCF battle to decide unlikely C-USA champ
O'Leary resume touts new entry: turnaround season
Fortuitous Tulsa primed for title game

AP Sports Writer

ORLANDO, FL — The lure of a storybook championship brought out the biggest crowd ever to see a Central Florida football game.

Most of them didn't stick around to watch Tulsa's celebration.

Tarrion Adams had three touchdowns, two of them rushing, and Tulsa's defense shut UCF out in the second half as the Golden Hurricane claimed their first league title in 20 years with a 44-27 victory in the inaugural Conference USA championship game on Saturday before 51,978 at the Citrus Bowl.

The win sends Tulsa (8-4) to the Liberty Bowl against Fresno State. UCF (8-4), which lost for the second time in 10 games and had a major turnaround season under coach George O'Leary, is expected to play in the Hawaii Bowl on Dec. 24.

Adams had a 15-yard touchdown catch and a 6-yard scoring run in the first quarter — then sealed the win with a 25-yard run with 6:17 left in the third as Tulsa won for the sixth time in its last seven games. The Golden Hurricane's last league crown came in 1985, when Tulsa won the Missouri Valley Conference.

Paul Smith completed 13 of 20 passes for 205 yards and two scores for Tulsa, which held UCF to 55 yards in the second half. Uril Parrish had 100 yards and a touchdown for the Golden Hurricane, and Adams finished with 81 rushing yards.

Tulsa's Garrett Mills had eight catches for 152 yards — giving him 1,183 for the year, a new NCAA record for most receiving yards by a tight ends in a season. Brigham Young's Chris Smith had 1,156 in 1990.

Kevin Smith ran for 108 yards and a touchdown for UCF, which snapped a 17-game losing streak earlier this season and will play in a bowl for the first time in the school's 10-year football history.

Knights quarterback Steven Moffett threw for 190 yards and a touchdown, but had two interceptions and lost two fumbles — with three of those turnovers coming in the second half.

UCF had a chance to cut a 14-point deficit in half early in the fourth, but Dontavius Wilcox — with no defenders in front of him — stumbled and fell at the Tulsa 10.

The Golden Knights, who'd never drawn more than 50,220 to a home game, eventually turned the ball over on downs, and Tulsa ran 7 1/2 minutes off the clock before Brad DeVault kicked his third field goal with 2:24 left to cap the scoring.

Tulsa led 31-27 at halftime, after the teams totaled 520 yards — not including a 58-yard interception return by Tulsa's Nick Graham and a 68-yard punt return for a touchdown by UCF's Joe Burnett.

Moffett threw a 43-yard pass to Willie Thornton to open the scoring, but the Golden Hurricane answered with 21 straight points to build an early two-touchdown lead. Adams caught a 15-yard touchdown pass from Smith, then scored on a 6-yard run to give Tulsa its first lead.

After Graham picked off a Moffett pass and returned it to the UCF 2, Uril Parrish scored one play later for a 21-7 Tulsa lead — capping a run of three touchdowns in less than seven minutes by the Golden Hurricane.

UCF rallied with 17 unanswered points in a 5 1/2 -minute stretch, with Smith scoring on a 31-yard run, Matt Prater kicking a 46-yard field goal and Burnett putting the Golden Knights back on top with his second interception return for a score in as many games.

DeVault's 29-yard field goal and Mills' 29-yard touchdown catch with 2:06 left — the one setting the NCAA record — gave Tulsa a 31-24 edge, before Prater drew the Golden Knights within four with a 40-yard field goal on the half's final play.

But UCF went scoreless in the third quarter, while Tulsa got an 18-yard field goal by DeVault and a 25-yard run by Adams midway through the period to take a 41-27 lead into the final 15 minutes.

02/23/07 10:43 AM

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