ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) — Central Florida entered its Conference USA opener needing a win to slow division mate East Carolina, which was already 2-0 in league play and set to face a favorable schedule against several weaker teams the rest of the season.
Then the Knights fell behind by two touchdowns quickly, before Quincy McDuffie sparked them with a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown on the way to a 40-20 victory Thursday night.
McDuffie also scored on a 64-yard touchdown catch and Knights quarterback Blake Bortles threw for a touchdown and ran for another. Shawn Moffitt kicked four field goals.
"There wasn't anything we ran that got stopped," Bortles said. "Our goal is to put points on the board every possession. We definitely want touchdowns as the end results, but even though some of those ended up with field goals, we still got points on the board."
UCF (3-2, 1-0 Conference USA) scored on eight consecutive possessions to seize control of the game, while its defense tightened and allowed only a field goal after halftime.
The Pirates (3-3, 2-1) led 14-0 early, but lost an opportunity to take control of C-USA's East Division. Quarterback Shane Carden had a rushing score and 76-yard touchdown pass, but threw an interception and was sacked twice.
With senior tailback Reggie Bullock out after sustaining a concussion last week against UTEP, Vintavious Cooper — who had 151 yards in the win over the Miners — had to shoulder the majority rushing duties with only a little relief from Michael Dobson. Cooper finished with 58 yards rushing Thursday, but failed to get into the end zone.
The 40 points allowed by the Pirates were second only to the 48 it allowed in their 48-10 loss to South Carolina Sept. 8.
""We wanted to start fast and we did have the momentum early, but then some special teams' mishaps and we lost momentum," ECU coach Ruffin McNeill said. "Something tough like that happens, you got to play the next play and get the momentum back. We had some opportunities to gain it back, but just didn't do it."
It was easily UCF's strongest collective effort of the season on offense. It also got a boost from the return of running back Latavius Murray, who played in his first game since suffering a shoulder injury in the season opener Aug. 30.
Meanwhile, ECU came apart on both sides of the ball in the second half, never recovering from an early momentum swing. The loss kept the Pirates from moving to 3-0 for just the third time since 2001.