STATE COLLEGE, Pa. — Like most of his teammates, UCF was not the first college of choice for quarterback Blake Bortles.
Bortles ended up with the Knights when teams from the major conferences never called, a snub that fueled arguably the most stunning night in the program's history.
Bortles passed for 288 yards and three touchdowns and UCF edged Penn State 34-31 on Saturday to give the new American Athletic Conference a shot of respectability.
"We definitely play with a chip on our shoulder, I know I do," Bortles said. "We didn't have the offers from the big schools. I know I didn't. But when we come here and we play, we want to make sure they know we can play with them."
Storm Johnson ran for a career-high 117 yards and a score and added a touchdown catch as the Knights (3-0) beat a Big Ten team for the first time.
Things grew tight late after UCF allowed the Nittany Lions (2-1) to cut an 18-point deficit to three with 2:51 left.
Instead of panicking, the Knights pressed on. Bortles found J.J. Worton to convert a first down, allowing UCF to drain the clock. On fourth down with 2 seconds left and the ball near midfield, Bortles took the snap and tumbled backward while the scoreboard flashed all zeroes and chants of "UCF!" echoed in Beaver Stadium.
Coach George O'Leary called it the biggest win in his decade on the job, a list that includes an upset over Georgia in the Liberty Bowl three years ago.
"It's a bigger win because it happened today," O'Leary said.
More may be on the way after the Knights ripped Penn State for 507 yards, the highest total given up by the Nittany Lions under coach Bill O'Brien.
"We didn't tackle very well, they blocked us, they made some plays," O'Brien said. "Give them a lot of credit, they had a good plan."
Zach Zwinak rushed for 128 yards and three touchdowns for Penn State but also fumbled inside UCF territory with less than 6 minutes remaining.
"We knew they were big," Bortles said. "We knew we were going to be faster and be able to get outside and make some plays happen."
The Knights were hardly intimidated by the atmosphere or a defense that came in allowing just 221 yards per game. UCF easily topped that total in the first half alone. Bortles led a 13-play, 89-yard drive on UCF's first possession, with Johnson taking a swing pass and slipping into the end zone for a 4-yard touchdown.