ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — All week Central Florida players were reminded of that homecoming loss to UAB two years ago. Signs of the final score reading “15-0” were put in their lockers. Posters hung in the athletic facility. Even fliers were sent to players’ hotel rooms.
Then the final score changed in the locker room just before Wednesday night’s game: “UCF 56. UAB 0.”
They came close.
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Troy Davis returned an interception for a touchdown, Josh Robinson picked up a fumble for a score and a ball-hawking defense helped Central Florida roll to a 42-7 win over UAB on Wednesday night to get the redemption players so desperately wanted.
“All week we talked about that loss,” linebacker Derrick Hallman said. “We took a lot of pride in erasing that.”
Consider it done.
Ronnie Weaver had 50 yards rushing and two touchdowns, and freshman quarterback Jeff Godfrey had 217 total yards in a strong Conference USA opener for the Knights (3-2, 1-0). But it was their defense that came up big in the nationally televised game.
Bryan Ellis was held to 149 yards passing with a touchdown and two interceptions for the Blazers (1-4, 0-2). He alternated at quarterback with David Isabelle, whose fumble put the game out of reach early.
The only football game of the night offered a rare stage for UCF to creep out of the shadows of the state’s traditional powerhouses — Florida, Florida State and Miami — and highlight its growing facilities, now home to the country’s third-largest student enrollment at more than 53,000. The school canceled classes scheduled to begin after noon and gave away tickets to students and faculty — even those at neighboring colleges — to fill the stadium with 40,281 in a black-and-gold clad crowd.
“I think that’s great exposure for UCF, the program, the school itself. I thought the stadium was electric out there, it’s loud and I’m sure it went over real well on (TV),” UCF coach George O’Leary said. “That only helps the program, it helps the school and throughout the whole country. You can’t buy that exposure.”
And the home team put on a show.
Kemal Ishmael returned an interception of a pass by Ellis to the UAB 27-yard line early in the first quarter. Three plays later, Weaver’s 4-yard touchdown gave UCF a 7-0 lead.
Godfrey’s 35-yard run in the second quarter highlighted a 53-yard drive that was capped by a 2-yard touchdown run by Weaver. Junior Rob Calabrese relieved Godfrey after a hard hit, connecting on a 4-yard TD pass to Brian Watters with 4 seconds remaining in the first half that put the Knights ahead 21-0.
And the rout was on.
“In the first half, they really embarrassed us,” UAB coach Neil Callaway said. “In the second half, we picked it up but not nearly what we needed it to be.”
Two first-half fumbles cost UCF a chance to put away the game even earlier, including one by Weaver on the Blazers’ 2-yard line and another by Godfrey 30 yards from another score. But the Knights’ blitz-happy defense — tops in Conference USA — was constantly in the backfield and had UAB scrambling.
Robinson returned Isabelle’s fumble 56 yards down the sideline for a touchdown, giving UCF a 28-0 lead that was never challenged. It was quite a way to start conference play for the Knights, especially after last-minute losses to North Carolina State and Kansas State.
And it was quite a flip-flop for a Blazers team that nearly knocked off Tennessee.
UAB’s kicking woes continued, with Josh Zahn missing a 44-yard field goal. Zahn missed five consecutive field goals in a 32-29 double-overtime loss to the Volunteers.
A 23-yard TD catch by Patrick Hearn on fourth down gave UAB its only score in the third quarter, one of the few big plays UCF’s defense allowed. Davis would follow with a 29-yard interception return of a pass by Ellis that capped a highlight-reel night for the Knights defense.