ORLANDO — Before the season, Central Florida chose "Finish" as its team motto after a year in which it left far too many close victories on the field because of its own mistakes.
Saturday's 21-16 loss to Missouri was a reminder that the Knights aren't quite free of those self-destructive habits.
UCF (2-2) controlled most of the game, but a special teams mishap and late turnover erased its momentum in its bid to defeat its first SEC opponent at home.
Marcus Murphy returned a punt 66 yards for a touchdown and James Franklin added an 80-yard touchdown pass to help the Tigers grind out the win.
UCF trailed 21-10 before a late score, but after a Tigers punt, receiver Jeff Godfrey's fumble with 2:26 left allowed Missouri (3-2) to hang on.
"I feel like we lost poise," UCF running back Storm Johnson said. "The coaches preach to us that we've got to finish and that's what we didn't do."
Johnson, starting his second game while Latavius Murray continues to work his way back from a shoulder injury, said there was a bit of lost focus in the huddle down the stretch.
"It's very frustrating, just as a player," Johnson said. "It was a winnable game (Saturday). I felt like we could have won even with all the mistakes we had. It was still a winnable game."
Coming off a dismal passing performance last week at South Carolina, Franklin was efficient, going 19-for-30 for 257 yards. Kendial Lawrence added 104 yards rushing and a touchdown for the Tigers.
Knights quarterback Blake Bortles kept his team in the game, going 29-of-43 for 267 yards and two touchdowns.
But coach George O'Leary said UCF's final series of the first half, which ended inside Missouri's 3 with no points, sapped a lot of his team's momentum going into the locker room.
After a stuffed run and incomplete pass, Bortles was sacked, and time expired before the Knights could run out their field goal team.
O'Leary said afterward that Bortles convinced him he could make a play.
"Blake was like, 'No, coach, we can get a play,' " O'Leary said of the sequence. "Well, we didn't do it and you can't give up points like that. … We have to make better decisions at the quarterback position."
Before Murphy's punt return, the Knights looked to be taking control, leading 10-7 and coming off an interception and fourth sack of Franklin early in the third quarter.
But Missouri capitalized on a short punt and needed just three plays to take its 21-10 lead with 9:31 left in the game.
"I don't care how it looked," Tigers coach Gary Pinkel said of a game in which his team was on the short end of almost every major statistical category. "I'm not interested in looking pretty. In my business, I want to win and it was a great win."
Lawrence had one carry in the first half before rushing 18 times for 101 yards after the break.