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UCF playoff hopes dim in 39-38 defeat

In 69 plays, the University of Central Florida offense produced 38 points and 497 yards Saturday against Troy State.

But it failed to produce two points on the play, a conversion attempt with 2:43 remaining.

Consequently, Div. I-AA No. 5 Troy State came away with a 39-38 win that spoiled homecoming for 11th-ranked UCF and hurt the Knights' chances of making the I-AA playoffs.

To make the playoffs, UCF (5-3) must win its remaining three games, including a road contest against Division I-A East Carolina, which beat the Knights 41-17 last year. Clearly, those playoff hopes were a factor in coach Gene McDowell's decision to go for two after quarterback Darin Hinshaw threw a 12-yard touchdown pass to David Rhodes.

"I thought a tie was as bad as a loss with two losses, and possibly a third loss down the line," McDowell said. "Anyway, I wanted to go ahead and win. How many times do you get a chance to win the game on one play?

"Everyone (on the coaching staff) I talked to wanted to go for it."

The risk was calculated. The Knights called two timeouts to see Troy's defense. Hinshaw and Rhodes _ who became the school's career leaders in passing and receiving Saturday _ tried to connect on a slant pattern but the ball sailed over Rhodes' head.

"It was high, but I thought he could jump and get it if the defensive back didn't press him," Hinshaw said. "And I thought he would attract a penalty or something like that."

Late-game heroics wouldn't have been needed if the Knights had found a way to stop Troy State. The Trojans' I-option attack accounted for 437 yards rushing, with tailback Randolph Lovejoy rushing for 130 yards and fullback Joe Jackson 110.

It was Lovejoy and quarterback Jeremey Rowell who help erase UCF's 32-25 lead. Rowel engineered a 44-yard touchdown drive to tie the score, then converted Hinshaw's third interception into a 2-yard touchdown run to put Troy up 39-32.

Hinshaw's three interceptions and a fumble tainted his 341-yard performance. Hinshaw threw four touchdown passes _ two to freshman Todd Cleveland _ and scored on a 1-yard plunge.

But the turnovers and the Knights' porous defense _ now allowing an average of 401.8 yards _ negated the offensive fireworks.

Central Florida opened the game with 10 consecutive points and finished the half with another touchdown to take a 17-14 halftime lead.

Hinshaw completed a 13-yard pass to tight end John Wouda on UCF's opening drive. Charlie Pierce followed by recovering his own onside kick, and that led to a 40-yard field goal by Pierce.

Just before the half, Hinshaw threw a 44-yard touchdown pass to Cleveland to erase Troy's 14-10 lead.

But between those scores, the Knights appeared to be a team capable of getting blown out by the Trojans. Troy drove 89 yards on 13 plays to make the score 10-7.

Jackson's 45-yard touchdown run through the heart of the defense put Troy ahead 14-10 midway through the second quarter.

Troy averaged 8.9 yards a play in the first half, but two fumbles and 70 yards in penalties stopped the Trojans from scoring more.

After the game, McDowell was trying to generate new sparks in the locker room. The Knights entered the game in a self-billed must-win situation. Nothing had changed after the loss.

"Now our backs are up against the wall, again," McDowell said. "We have a slight opening (for the playoffs) but we have to run the table.

"Everyone thinks we'll lose to East Carolina, and the odds are we will. But we're not going to send them the win. We're going to go up and play the game."

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