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ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Mike Hughes returned a kickoff 95 yards for the final touchdown with 1:28 remaining as No. 12 Central Florida completed the first unbeaten regular season in program history with a wild 49-42 victory over No. 19 South Florida on Friday to clinch the American Athletic Conference’s East Division title.
The Knights (11-0, 8-0 AAC, CFP No. 15) will host Memphis in the conference title game on Dec. 2.
“This place is really special and tonight I saw a glimpse of what it could be,” said UCF coach Scott Frost, who inherited a team that finished 0-12 in 2015. “We started at the bottom two years ago. I knew we could be good but not that it could happen this fast.”
Hughes’ touchdown capped a crazy 53-second span where the Knights took an eight-point lead, South Florida tied it and then the Knights took the lead for good.
The Bulls (9-2, 6-2) tied it at 42 when Quinton Flowers connected with Darnel Salomon for an 83-yard touchdown, and then found D’Ernest Johnson for a 2-point play. Flowers finished with 605 yards of total offense.
On the ensuing kickoff, Hughes found an opening on the right side and scored.
“It’s a blur. I’m going to have to watch a replay to remember all of what happened,” Frost said. “I was on the headset kind of in disbelief that we gave up that touchdown. I was hoping we could get a decent return to midfield so that we could make a first down or two to be in field goal range. Man, he hit that thing full speed.”
South Florida drove to midfield late, but Mitchell Wilcox fumbled and it was recovered by Chequan Burkett.
McKenzie Milton was 29 of 44 for 373 yards and four touchdowns.
UCF led 21-7 late in the first quarter but South Florida took a 34-28 lead with 3:41 remaining in the game on Flowers’ 24-yard touchdown run, which marked the first time this season that the Knights had trailed in the second half.
UCF has scored 30 points or more in every game this season, which is the longest streak in the nation.
Flowers threw for a career-high 503 yards (24 of 45, four touchdowns) and ran for 102. He had 348 yards alone in the first half with five completions of 30 yards or more.
“That was a tough one, a tough loss. … You look at the performance by Quinton and it was a great performance. Offensively, we were able to match them score by score,” South Florida coach Charlie Strong said. “There were just so many plays in that game that could have turned it around. ”
Tryre McCants had already set a USF single-game receiving record with 6 minutes remaining in the first half. The junior had 227 yards on nine receptions, including a 55-yard touchdown. The previous record was 191 yards by Andre Davis in a 2012 game at Nevada. McCants previous career high was 105 yards against SMU last season.
USF: Flowers gets forgotten among college football’s star quarterbacks, but his career puts him among the most productive ever. He became the sixth player in FBS history with 60-plus passing touchdowns and 40 or more rushing scores.
UCF: The Knights are in the driver’s seat for possibly making a major New Year’s bowl for the second time in five seasons.
USF: The Bulls prepare for a third straight bowl appearance and ninth overall.
UCF: The Knights will try to make it 2-0 against Memphis this season. They beat the Tigers 40-13 in September. And then they’ll see if Frost remains their coach.
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