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UCF outlasts SMU, cold to claim outright AAC crown
Dallas, TX (SportsNetwork.com) - Blake Bortles ran for a pair of second-half touchdowns as 15th-ranked UCF completed an undefeated conference season with a 17-13 victory over SMU on a frigid day at Gerald Ford Stadium.
Bortles' 15-yard scoring run in the closing seconds of the third quarter put the Knights ahead for good. He finished with 31 yards on 10 carries and also threw for 242 yards on 24-of-35 passing in the victory.
UCF (11-1, 8-0 AAC) had already wrapped up the American Athletic Conference's automatic BCS bowl berth when Louisville beat Cincinnati on Thursday. The Knights completed the regular season with eight straight wins since their lone loss -- a 28-25 setback to South Carolina in late September -- and will await their BCS destination on Sunday night.
"It's a great win for the fan base and everybody, especially the ones who have been with us so long and waiting for something like this," said UCF coach George O'Leary. "They have the champions now and a BCS bowl team."
Neal Burcham, making his second straight start in place of injured SMU quarterback Garrett Gilbert, completed 24-of-34 passes for 222 yards with a touchdown in defeat. He appeared to suffer a head injury early in the fourth quarter.
The Mustangs (5-7, 4-4) lost their last two games and will not play in a bowl game for the first time in five years.
"The kids didn't give up and I'm proud of them," said SMU coach June Jones.
Only a handful of people were on hand for the contest with temperatures in the low 20s following an ice storm on Friday. The weather forced the cancellation of the Dallas Marathon and the frosty temperature made it the coldest game ever for the Orlando-based Knights.
UCF trailed 10-3 at the break, then fumbled away the ball after reaching the SMU 25 on its first possession, but tied the game on its next drive. Bortles completed each of his first five throws on the second series and capped the 66-yard march by scoring on a 1-yard run.
The Mustangs responded with a 54-yard drive and regained the lead on a 39-yard field goal from Chase Hover, but the Knights answered and took the lead for the first time with a 63-yard touchdown march.
A pass interference penalty against SMU on 3rd-and-12 incompletion kept the drive alive early and Bortles finished the 10-play series with a 15-yard scoring run. He darted to the left side and raced down the sideline, sticking the ball over the goal line before going out of bounds near the pylon with just 14 seconds left in the third quarter.
"I made a decision to go 'Fastball,'" said O'Leary about going to his up-tempo offense in the second half. "We came out in the no-huddle and Blake did an outstanding job of controlling the ball."
SMU's next two possessions ended in turnovers on downs inside UCF territory. Burcham left the field when his head hit the frozen turf at the end of an unsuccessful fourth-down run on the second series, leaving Garrett Krstich under center for the next drive.
The sophomore was intercepted on his second pass, but UCF could not take advantage, giving SMU life once more after Shawn Moffitt hit the right upright on a 24-yard field goal attempt. Krstich got the Mustangs one first down on the next set of downs, but was taken down short of a first down with a minute to play and UCF ran out the remainder of the clock.
SMU took the opening kickoff at its own 25 and kept the ball for nearly nine minutes, but the drive stalled at the UCF 16 and Hover capped the 15-play set with a 33-yard field goal.
UCF tied the contest on its second series with Moffitt's 32-yard kick early in the second quarter, but SMU responded just five plays later with a 30-yard touchdown pass from Burcham to Keenan Holman for a 10-3 edge.
The Knights were unable to generate anything with their next two possessions, the last a desperation heave to the end zone that harmlessly fell to the turf at the end of the half.
Gilbert is sidelined with a knee sprain ... Storm Johnson led the UCF ground game with just 37 yards on 11 carries ... Holman had six catches for 91 yards in defeat ... UCF improved to 5-1 all-time against SMU.
12/07 19:32:55 ET