TU beats UCF in overtime to win Conference USA title and Liberty Bowl berth
BY BILL HAISTEN World Sports Writer
Sunday, December 02, 2012
12/02/12 at 5:32 AM
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The improvisational brilliance of Trey Watts, the determination of Cory Dorris and the reliability of Alex Singleton vaulted the University of Tulsa to its first Conference USA football championship and Liberty Bowl berth since 2005.
With 5:06 remaining in the fourth quarter, and with Central Florida leading 27-21, Watts stunned the H.A. Chapman Stadium crowd and the Knights by scoring on a 54-yard, classically ad-libbed punt return.
A member of the UCF coverage unit had batted the bouncing ball - but the officials did not blow the play dead. As UCF players were mostly stationary, Watts scooped the ball, benefited from a great block by freshman Derek Patterson and raced down the Tulsa sideline for the score.
TU failed to take the lead, however, because of a botched extra-point kick.
For the first time in the eight-game history of the C-USA championship contest, there would be overtime.
At the end of UCF's overtime possession, Dorris blocked Shawn Moffitt's 38-yard field-goal attempt. And at the end of the TU's overtime possession, Singleton - the most prolific touchdown producer in TU history - converted on a 1-yard TD leap.
Tulsa prevailed 33-27, having defeated the C-USA East Division champion Knights for the second time in 15 days and for the second time in three Conference USA championship meetings. Tulsa defeated UCF in 2005. UCF defeated Tulsa in 2007.
"Obviously, a tough way to lose in overtime," Knights coach George O'Leary said on Saturday. "I thought (the Hurricane) made plays when they had to make them. We didn't."
In games decided by seven or fewer points this year, the Hurricane is 6-1.
"We've had games like this all season," said TU quarterback Cody Green, who connected with Thomas Roberson for a 20-yard, first-quarter touchdown. "I think that's what prepared us for this championship game."
Said Hurricane coach Bill Blankenship: "I couldn't be prouder. This is a great moment for these players and, hopefully, the city."
At 10-3 overall - and having become the ninth TU team to achieve 10-win status - the Hurricane will represent Conference USA in the Dec. 31 Liberty Bowl at Memphis, Tenn. On Sunday, TU will learn whether it will face an opponent from the Southeastern Conference or the Big East.
"It's my first championship ever. I'm still ecstatic about it," said Singleton, a 260-pound senior who rushed for 100 yards and two TDs. With 41 career touchdowns, he stands alone as Tulsa's all-time leader.
With 134 rushing yards and the punt-return touchdown, Watts was voted the Conference USA championship game's most valuable player.
At 9-4, the Knights settle for a consolation prize - an appearance in the Beef O'Brady's St. Petersburg Bowl. It will be UCF's final football game as a C-USA member. Next year, the Knights join the Big East.
The defining characteristics of Saturday's game were a strong, sound wind - with gusts of nearly 40 mph that profoundly affected passes and kicks - and tremendous momentum fluctuation.
During the final 62 seconds of the first half, as TU drove 80 yards against the wind, Green completed a 17-yard pass to Keyarris Garrett and a 32-yarder to Roberson. With only two seconds left before halftime, Blankenship had two options - send freshman Daniel Schwarz onto the field for a 19-yard field goal attempt, or run a play from the 2-yard line.
Blankenship opted for the latter, and Ja'Terian Douglas scored as time expired.
With two touchdowns during the final 2:35 of the half, the Hurricane had rallied from a 14-7 deficit to a 21-14 advantage.
Referring to the end-of-half possession, Blankenship said, "As soon as we got a first down and got some tempo going, we felt like we would be able to keep it going. We made some big plays."
The Hurricane momentum dissolved during the third quarter. There was a failed fourth-and-1 from the UCF 44. There was a 5-yard Tulsa punt against the wind. There were two Knights touchdowns - by Latavius Murray (2-yard run) and quarterback Blake Bortles (a 28-yard scramble, resulting in the 27-21 UCF lead with 2:19 left in the quarter).
During the fourth quarter, TU had two additional fourth-down stumbles. On fourth-and-1 from the UCF 27, Singleton was stuffed. And on fourth-and-4 from the UCF 11, Blankenship again left his offense on the field instead of trying a field goal. The result: a Green pass fell incomplete.
Tulsa seemed doomed - until Watts popped his 54-yard return. The Hurricane defense followed by stopping UCF at midfield, and TU was taken to overtime on its home field for the first time since 2009.
Among the more memorable plays of Dorris' career was his blocking of a Notre Dame extra-point kick two years ago. TU got a two-point return on that play and wound up with a 28-27 victory. A senior defensive end, Dorris provided another big-game block with Saturday's knockdown of UCF's overtime field-goal attempt.
Five plays later, when Singleton splashed into the end zone for the victory-clinching touchdown, Dorris, Watts, Blankenship and more than 100 additional members of the TU football organization stormed the field in celebration.
C-USA CHAMPIONSHIP: TULSA 33, UCF 27, OT
UP NEXT: Liberty Bowl vs. TBA 2:30 p.m. Dec. 31 at Memphis, Tenn. TV: ESPN-25 Radio: KRMG am740, fm102.3
Original Print Headline: Give 'em Liberty
Bill Haisten 918-581-8397
Trey Watts and head coach Bill Blankenship celebrate after Watts was named the Conference USA championship game's Most Valuable Player after TU's overtime win over Central Florida on Saturday at H.A. Chapman Stadium. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World
TU's Trey Watts runs back a punt for a touchdown in the fourth quarter Saturday. TOM GILBERT/Tulsa World
Dexter McCoil holds up the championship trophy after Tulsa's overtime win over Central Florida on Saturday in the Conference USA championship game. TOM GILBERT/ Tulsa World