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Inside Game Day
Thursday, October 4, 2012

By Al Myatt

UCF's McDuffie turns momentum

Al Myatt
All rights reserved.

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 flourish.

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 lost momentum."

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 40-20 win.

"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 three scores.

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.

E-mail Al Myatt.

PAGE UPDATED 10/05/12 05:05 AM.

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