GLENDALE, Ariz. — A decade after a winless season, Central Florida earned its first trip to a BCS bowl.
Once the Knights got there, they were given no chance at winning. Not against Baylor, the nation’s best offensive team.
They refused to listen to all the negativity and turned the Fiesta Bowl into a rousing BCS debut.
Blake Bortles accounted for 394 yards and four touchdowns, Storm Johnson ran for two early tone-setting scores and No. 15 Central Florida outlasted Baylor 52-42 on Wednesday night in the highest-scoring game in Fiesta Bowl history.
“We did prove a lot of people wrong,” Johnson said.
Central Florida (12-1) wasn’t given much of a chance, entering the game as a 17-point underdog.
The Knights didn’t care about the spread and certainly didn’t back down from the big, bad Bears, racing past Baylor with an array of big plays.
They took an early 14-point lead and kept rolling, piling up 556 total yards in the second-highest scoring BCS bowl ever.
Bortles, the junior who could be weighing a jump to the NFL, was the catalyst, throwing for three touchdowns on 20-of-31 passing and running for 93 yards and another score.
Rannell Hall accounted for some of the biggest plays, catching four passes for 113 yards and two touchdowns. Johnson kept Baylor from ganging up on UCF’s passing game, grinding out 124 yards on 20 carries.
So much about having no shot.
“There’s not many outside of us who believe we had a chance, but we did and I think we showed what UCF football is all about,” Bortles said.
Known for its offense prowess, Baylor (11-2) had a hard time keeping up with the Knights.
The Big 12 champions finished with 550 total yards, but were uncharacteristically undisciplined, getting 17 penalties for 135 yards.
Bryce Petty tried to keep the Bears in it, running for three touchdowns while throwing for 356 yards and two more scores. Lache Seastrunk had some big runs in the first half and finished with 117 yards.
None of it was enough the way UCF ran through Baylor’s defense.
“We caught a football team that was hot,” Baylor coach Art Briles said. “They played extremely well early, got into us. We tried to play catch-up the whole game, never could turn it around when it needed turning.”
The Fiesta Bowl was the BCS coming-out party for Baylor and Central Florida before college football’s switch to a playoff system next season.
The Bears had been building toward this since Briles became coach in 2009, winding up his high-octane offense to lead the nation in scoring and churn out the second-most yards in FBS history.
Central Florida had a slower rise under George O’Leary.
The coach who was fired by Notre Dame five days after being hired for lying on his resume has built his reputation back up in Orlando, taking a program that went winless in 2004 to the inaugural American Athletic Conference title and automatic BCS berth this year.
The matchup was projected to be like the 2011 Fiesta Bowl, when mighty Oklahoma rolled over Connecticut 48-20.
The Knights weren’t listening.
They opened with a 76-yard scoring drive capped by Johnson’s tackle-breaking 11-yard touchdown run. Johnson scored again on UCF’s next possession, this one on a 2-yard run.
The early 14-0 lead was expected. The team leading wasn’t.
Baylor finally revved up its offense late in the first quarter, scoring on a 1-yard TD sneak by Petty and Central Florida looked as if it was ready to fall apart with turnovers on three consecutive plays.
Baylor only turned one of those into points: a 30-yard pass from Petty to Levi Norwood. Petty followed Johnson’s fumble with an interception in the end zone, just his third of the season.
“Unfortunately, that was the turning point in the game,” Petty said. “We needed that to save momentum up for us, especially after a turnover. Turnovers in the red zone kill an offense.”
Then came the spectacular plays, seemingly one after another.
Hall darted and dashed through Baylor’s defense for a 50-yard touchdown on a screen pass, with help from Josh Reese’s downfield block.
Petty hurtled himself into the end zone, flipping over UCF’s Brandon Alexander to cap a 13-yard run. That gave Baylor 659 points, breaking the NCAA record for a 13-game season set by Texas (652) in 2005.
The momentum was gone shortly after, when Hall turned a swing pass into a 34-yard touchdown — assisted again by Reese — to put the Knights up 28-20 at halftime.
Petty scored his third touchdown on 1-yard run in the third quarter and dashed in for the 2-point conversion to tie the game, but Central Florida still wouldn’t back down.
Bortles hit Breshad Perriman on a 10-yard touchdown pass and opened the fourth quarter by scoring on a 15-yard run to put the Knights up 42-28.
Even after Baylor moved quickly for a 9-yard touchdown run by Glasco Martin, UCF had an answer, going up 49-35 on Johnson’s 40-yard run through the heart of the Bears’ defense.
NEBRASKA 24, NO. 23 GEORGIA 19
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — Tommy Armstrong Jr. connected with Quincy Enunwa for two touchdowns, including a 99-yarder in the third quarter, and Nebraska held on to beat Georgia in the rain-soaked Gator Bowl.
Playing in their 50th bowl, the Cornhuskers (9-4) ended a four-game losing streak against teams from the Southeastern Conference. The streak included a 45-31 loss to Georgia in the Capital One Bowl last season.
The rematch was much different.
Nebraska did a solid job against running back Todd Gurley, who ran for 125 yards and a touchdown last year. Gurley finished with 86 yards on the ground.
Gurley was more effective in the passing game, catching seven passes for 97 yards and a score. His 25-yard scoring receptions on the first play of the fourth quarter cut Nebraska’s lead to 24-19.
But the Huskers stopped Georgia (8-5) twice on fourth down in the closing minutes.
CAPITAL ONE BOWL
NO. 8 SO. CARO. 34, NO. 19 WISCONSIN 24
ORLANDO, Fla. — Connor Shaw was responsible for five touchdowns, including three passing, and South Carolina outlasted Wisconsin in the Capital One Bowl.
The senior was selected the game MVP after picking apart the Badgers’ defense, completing 22 of 25 passes for 312 yards. Shaw also had rushing and receiving scores.
The game also turned out to be the final college contest for South Carolina star defensive end Jadeveon Clowney, who said afterward that he would forgo his senior season to enter the NFL draft.
South Carolina (11-2) won its third straight bowl game to cap its third straight 11-win season.
Bruce Ellington caught six passes for 140 yards and two touchdowns.
The Badgers (9-4) lost their fourth straight bowl game, failing to capitalize on 100-yard rushing games from both Melvin Gordon and James White, and struggling after quarterback Joel Stave left in the third quarter with a shoulder injury. Backup Curt Phillips threw two interceptions.
NO. 14 LSU 21, IOWA 14
TAMPA, Fla. — Jeremy Hill ran for 216 yards and two touchdowns, helping LSU and inexperienced quarterback Anthony Jennings hold off Iowa in the Outback Bowl.
Craig Loston’s fourth-quarter interception stopped a potential tying drive, giving Hill a chance to put the game out of reach by carrying four times for 87 yards on a 92-yard march that gave LSU (10-3) a 21-7 lead.
Iowa (8-5) pulled within a touchdown after Jordan Cotton returned the ensuing kickoff to the Tigers 4.
Jennings rushed for one touchdown, but the freshman threw for only 82 yards and was intercepted once and sacked four times while standing in for the injured Zach Mettenberger in his first college start.
C.J. Beathard replaced Jake Rudock at quarterback for Iowa on the first play of the fourth quarter. His fourth-down interception stopped one promising drive, but he also tossed a 4-yard TD pass to Kevonte Martin-Manley that cut it 21-14 with 1:42 remaining.
Safety John Lowdermilk set up Iowa’s other TD — Mark Weisman’s 2-yard run in the third quarter — with an interception and 71-yard return to the 1. Officials initially ruled Lowdermilk, who was untouched on the return, scored. But the TD was reversed when a replay review determined the Iowa defender dropped the ball before crossing the goal line.
HEART OF DALLAS BOWL
NORTH TEXAS 36, UNLV 14
DALLAS — Derek Thompson threw for 256 yards and two touchdowns, Brelan Chancellor scored twice and North Texas dominated the second half to beat UNLV in the Heart of Dallas Bowl.
Both of Chancellor’s touchdown runs came in the fourth quarter after he keyed the go-ahead scoring drive in the third with some nifty footwork on a first-down catch. He had 121 yards combined rushing and receiving.
The Mean Green (9-4) were making their first postseason appearance since a 2004 New Orleans Bowl loss to Southern Miss and won a bowl for the first sice New Orleans in 2002.
UNLV (7-6) drove 95 yards for a touchdown on its opening possession but didn’t score again until the Mean Green were up 28-7 in the fourth quarter.