MEMPHIS — Two unusual scoring plays late let UCF escape with a win in its inaugural American Athletic Conference game on Saturday.
And the plays involved unexpected heroes on two fumble recoveries over a nine-second span — an offensive lineman who fell on the ball in the end zone and a special teams player who scooped a fumble on the ensuing kickoff for a score — to give the Knights a 24-17 victory over Memphis.
"We got a win here, but we need to be very quiet about it," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "I thought Memphis outplayed us in a lot of areas."
Offensive tackle Chris Martin was credited with the recovery in the end zone with 2:05 left to tie it at 17. Then a hit from William Stanback knocked the ball loose from Tigers kick returner Marquis Warford. Drico Johnson grabbed the ball at the 12 and ran to the end zone with 1:56 remaining as Tigers fans stared in stunned silence.
Memphis still had a couple of chances to tie it late. A 100-yard kickoff return by Joe Craig for an apparent score was nullified by a holding penalty, and a march in the closing seconds ended with an interception by Knights linebacker Terrance Plummer in the end zone — his second pick in the end zone in the game, leaving the Tigers with a heartbreaking setback.
"When I got here, it wasn't crushing losses, it was getting crushed," Memphis coach Justin Fuente said of the change in his second season.
The other touchdown for UCF came on a 1-yard run by Stanback in the third quarter. Shawn Moffitt added a first-half field goal from 26 yards.
Memphis gained 397 yards as quarterback Paxton Lynch was 20-of-38 for 279 yards.
"We played good," Lynch said. "I thought our (offensive) line definitely stepped up on all the blitzes that they showed us. We ran good routes, and our receivers had a chance to be open."
UCF, coming off of a 28-25 loss to South Carolina the previous week, was held to 270 yards. The Knights came in averaging 450. Quarterback Blake Bortles was 17-of-36 for 160 yards and did not throw a touchdown pass, ending his streak of 12 straight games.
"I thought we were just out of synch the whole game," O'Leary said. "We finally started throwing downfield where it should have been going most of the time."
Memphis led 17-10 after a 13-yard run from Sam Craft with 12:59 left.
Trailing 17-10, UCF faced fourth and 10 at the Memphis 28. Bortles hit Breshad Perriman for 16 yards, moving the Knights to the Memphis 12. He then hit Rannell Hall for 11 on the next play, giving UCF first and goal at the Memphis 1 and setting up its unusual touchdown as running back Storm Johnson tried to go over from the 1 but fumbled.
UCF is off next week before a showdown Oct. 18 at Louisville.