Tulsa has suffered about 10 lifetimes’ worth of misery this season, but all the close calls and bad luck turned into good karma in a 34-31 upset over UCF on Friday night. The Golden Hurricane entered Week 11 at 2-7 and winless in the AAC, but their record was not indicative of how tough they’ve been. This is a team that beat Wyoming, took SMU to overtime, played Cincinnati tough on the road and lost by one point to Memphis. To say that Philip Montgomery’s team should be closer to .500 and battling for bowl eligibility would be an understatement.
Against the Knights, Tulsa finally got over the hump and notched its biggest win of the season. While a bowl game is still out of the equation, you have to tip your hat to Tulsa for continuing to play tough even after massive disappointments again and again. Tulsa got all kinds of pressure on Knights quarterback Dillon Gabriel with six sacks and picked him off twice.
Those big defensive plays ended up being the difference in the game, but this easily could have been another heartbreak for the Golden Hurricane. Starting quarterback Zack Smith was knocked out of the game with an apparent left knee injury in the first half. He was replaced by former starter Seth Boomer, who went 6-of-10 for 87 yards and a touchdown. Still, Tulsa found itself in familiar territory when, with a chance to go up 34-31 in the fourth quarter, Jacob Rainey missed a 35-yard field goal, conjuring up painful memories from losses to SMU and Memphis.
But Gabriel’s second interception of the night came on the following possession, setting up Rainey for a 23-yard go-ahead kick.
This was easily UCF’s worst game of the season. The Knights committed 15 penalties for 120 yards, including two brutal calls at the end of the game: an intentional grounding on UCF’s final possession that put the offense in a long 4th-and-12 and an illegal substitution that gave Tulsa a game-winning first down when UCF was about get the ball back.
For a team that hadn’t lost a regular-season game in the two previous seasons, UCF now goes into its final two games at 7-3. What’s more, is that Friday’s loss gives Cincinnati a two-game buffer in the AAC East standings. The Bearcats play UConn this weekend and are already undoubtedly one of the biggest winners of the weekend barring an upset of their own.