ORLANDO – Injuries to key players plagued BYU football, as the Cougars (4-2) fell 31-24 in overtime to UCF (3-2, 1-0) Thursday night at Bright House Networks Stadium.
"There were a lot of different players in a lot of different roles scrapping and fighting for every blade of grass," BYU head coach Bronco Mendenhall said. "They tried really hard. They were unified. They were one or two plays short, but if they'll continue–which I think they will–trying the way they did tonight, there are some good things in store for them."
In overtime, the Knights broke the 24-24 tie with a four-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Justin Holman to running back William Stanback, putting UCF up 31-24. BYU was unable to respond, with a fourth down pass sailing incomplete past senior receiver Jordan Leslie.
Replacing injured quarterback Taysom Hill, senior Christian Stewart threw for 153 yards and three touchdowns for BYU. Algernon Brown and Paul Lasike, sharing the rushing load after Jamaal Williams sustained an early injury, combined for 132 yards on the ground on 29 carries. Safety Kai Nacua, who saw increased action due to injuries suffered by defensive backs Jordan Johnson and Craig Bills, intercepted a pass late in the game for the Cougars.
BYU began the game without Hill, defensive back Dallin Leavitt, linebacker Alani Fua, receiver Terenn Houk and offensive lineman Brayden Kearsley–all of whom sustained injuries last week against Utah State.
UCF received the opening kickoff and scored on its first possession, using 13 plays and 79 yards for a touchdown and 7-0 lead. After BYU's ensuing three-and-out, the Knights tacked on a field goal to increase their lead to 10-0.
The first quarter came to a close with the Cougars trailing 10-0. Johnson and Bills both sustained injuries in the first quarter. Medical personnel drove Johnson away from the field in an ambulance for X-rays on his arm and team doctors diagnosed Bills with a concussion.
BYU's first score of the game came 5:12 left in the first half, as Stewart and the offense carved out 41 yards on 10 plays, setting up a 32-yard field goal for senior kicker Trevor Samson. With the field goal, the Cougars closed the deficit to 10-3.
After allowing 130 yards in the first quarter, BYU surrendered only 51 yards to UCF in the second quarter. True freshman linebacker Sione Takitaki snuffed out a late first-half drive by the Knights, forcing UCF's Holman to fumble on the BYU 28-yard line and diving on the ball to give the Cougars possession with 35 seconds left in the half. BYU stayed within a touchdown (10-3) entering halftime.
The Cougars scored a touchdown on their first drive of the second half, driving 64 yards on 10 plays to even the game at 10-10. Stewart connected with sophomore receiver Colby Pearson for the score. The play marked Stewart's first passing touchdown at BYU, as well as Pearson's first career receiving touchdown.
BYU took its first lead with 9:18 left in the third quarter, as Brown recovered a Cougar punt that deflected off the leg of a UCF player at the Knight 25-yard line. Two plays later, BYU took a 17-10 lead, punctuating the short drive with a 15-yard touchdown pass from Stewart to senior tight end Devin Mahina. The touchdown was Mahina's first of the night, as he scored again on a 14-yard reception 13 seconds later, following an interception by senior safety Skye Povey. Mahina's second touchdown opened up the Cougars' lead to 24-10.
UCF answered with an eight-play, 37-yard touchdown drive after Rannell Hall returned BYU's kickoff 58 yards. Knight running back Stanback punched it in from two yards out to cut BYU's lead to 24-17 with 5:37 left in the third.
The Knights struck again with 10:17 left in the fourth quarter, connecting on a 37-yard touchdown pass from Holman to receiver Josh Reese to even the score at 24-24.
After the teams traded scoreless possessions, UCF had two shots for a game-winning field goal, muffing a snap on a second-down, 43-yard attempt with 12 seconds left. On third down, kicker Shawn Moffitt's 50-yard attempt with nine seconds left was blocked by BYU receiver Mitch Mathews. Stewart took a knee on the next play, sending the game to overtime and setting up the Knights' victory in extra time.
BYU next hosts Nevada (3-2, 1-0) Saturday, Oct. 18 at Lavell Edwards Stadium in Provo. The game will start at 8:15 p.m. MDT and will be televised on ESPN2.