UCF captures first win over Florida in Gasparilla Bowl 2021
UCF receiver Ryan O’Keefe did just about everything leading the Knights to a 29-17 win over the Florida Gators in the Gasparilla Bowl on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium.
The junior from Texas finished with a bowl-record 251 all-purpose yards, catching a 54-yard touchdown that put the Knights in control with just over a minute remaining in the third quarter at Raymond James Stadium.
“We beat a real talented team,” Knights coach Gus Malzahn told ESPN after the game. “We’re going in the right direction.”
O’Keefe ended with 110 rushing yards on just 4 carries, 7 catches for 85 yards, and 2 kickoff returns totaling 56 yards. True freshman quarterback Mikey Keene finished 14 of 22 with 144 yards and the 1 touchdown pass to O’Keefe.
Florida quarterback Emory Jones, who struggled with accuracy all season which led to him losing the starting job, was off again. He completed only 14 of 36 passes for 171 yards. He was forced to scramble for 62 rushing yards on 10 carries.
Anthony Richardson had seized the role but missed the game because of knee surgery.
The win over the Gators is UCF’s first. The teams have only met twice before with both games resulting in Florida wins in Gainesville.
While the Knights struggled on third down converting just 5 of 16, UCF’s defense limited the Gators to just 2 of 13 on the critical down. When needed most, the Knights found ways to get off the field, forcing 5 three-and-outs and a failed fourth-down try.
Malik Davis and Dameon Pierce found the end zone to help the Gators rush for 205 yards on 30 carries.
UCF kicker Daniel Obarski nailed three field goals from 33, 21, and 34 yards. The second one gave the Knights a 19-17 lead with 3:04 left in the third quarter, and they’d never trail again.
Isaiah Bowser had scored his second touchdown early in the third, but the Gators responded with a touchdown a few minutes later as Davis ran up the middle from 19 yards out.
UCF Knights wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe (4) takes the ball deep into Florida Gators territory during the Gasparilla Bowl college football game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)
UCF Knights wide receiver Ryan O’Keefe (4) takes the ball deep into Florida Gators territory during the Gasparilla Bowl college football game at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla., Thursday, Dec. 23, 2021. (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel) (Willie J. Allen Jr./Orlando Sentinel)
The Knights would only need one play on their next scoring drive as O’Keefe broke free for a 54-yard touchdown to extend the lead to 26-17 entering the fourth quarter.
Both teams struggled on offense to open, but the Gators struck first as Pierce ran in from 2 yards out with 1:22 left in the first quarter.
The Knights responded quickly with a 3-yard rushing touchdown from Bowser, who has been plagued by injuries all season. The score was Bowser’s first touchdown since Oct. 30. He finished with 155 yards on 35 carries.
Florida’s Chris Howard missed a 51-yard field goal, and that led to UCF taking a first-half lead on Obarski’s 34-yard field goal at 9-7.
Howard made a 26-yard kick with 1:36 left in the first half giving Florida a 10-9 lead at halftime.
The lead changed four times until the third when the Knights (9-4) went on their spurt and the Gators (6-7) had no response.
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