ST. PETERSBURG — Three years ago, UCF saw a bowl game start to slip away at Tropicana Field when Rutgers got a 19-yard interception return for a touchdown in the final two minutes of the first half, sparking the Scarlet Knights to a 45-24 runaway win.
But in Friday night's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl, UCF didn't hesitate to mount a drive from its 20-yard line with 55 seconds left and a 21-7 lead. The aggressive decision paid off, as Blake Bortles hit freshman WR Breshard Perriman for a 45-yard pass down the Ball State sideline.
Bortles, clutch on third down all night against the Cardinals, came through again on third and goal with 11 seconds left, hitting RB Latavius Murray for a 5-yard touchdown and a 28-7 lead on the Cardinals.
RECORD DAY: Bortles threw his third touchdown in the third quarter, matching a career high and tying the most in the bowl's five-year history. USF's Matt Grothe threw for three in the inaugural bowl in St. Petersburg, in 2008 against Memphis.
ANOTHER BIG CATCH: The result wasn't anything impressive, but the most interesting catch of the opening half came at the UCF 10-yard line, when Ball State's Keith Wenning threw a pass that was tipped and caught by 325-pound offensive lineman Kitt O'Brien for a 2-yard loss. It wound up being one of the better plays of the sequence — Wenning was sacked on third down for an 11-yard loss, then Ball State's 35-yard field goal was missed badly left.
CONFUSED? UCF has twins Jordan and Justin McCray, juniors from Miami Southridge, as its starting offensive guards, and they wear jersey numbers 63 and 64, respectively. Justin's jersey was torn in the second quarter, so for the second half, he wore No. 66.
THIS AND THAT: Ball State had one bit of history on its side coming in — Cardinal mascots had a 5-2 record at Tropicana Field, with MLB's St. Louis holding a 4-2 record here against the Rays in two interleague series; Louisville won the 2010 bowl game against Southern Miss. … UCF dominated the opening quarter, outgaining Ball State 160-15 and owning the time of possession with nearly 13 minutes out of the opening 15.