Central Florida 49, South Florida 42
When: 3:30 PM ET, Friday, November 24, 2017
Where: Spectrum Stadium, Orlando, Florida
Central Florida coach Scott Frost was just hoping for a decent return. Mike Hughes gave his coach an electric one.
Hughes returned a kickoff 95 yards for the winning touchdown with 1:28 to play and No. 15 Central Florida locked up a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game with a thrilling 49-42 win over South Florida on Friday at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
The Knights (11-0, 8-0 AAC) will host Memphis next week in the conference title game.
UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton threw four touchdowns passes -- two to Dredrick Snelson -- and also rushed for a pair of touchdowns, helping UCF overcome a huge performance from South Florida quarterback Quinton Flowers.
Flowers had a school-record 605 total yards and five touchdowns. The senior threw an 83-yard touchdown pass to Darnell Salomon and then converted a two-point conversion to tie the score 42-42 with 1:41 to play.
Hughes took the ensuing kickoff, cut to the left and outraced the Bulls to the end zone for the winning touchdown.
"It's a blur. I'm going to have to watch a replay to remember what happened," Frost said about Hughes' return. "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."
UCF defensive back Richie Grant forced a fumble on USF's ensuing drive, sealing the win for the undefeated Knights.
South Florida's defense had two fourth-down stops and an interception in the second half, but failed to pick up Snelson, who broke free behind the Bulls' secondary and hauled in a 45-yard touchdown pass from Milton to give UCF the lead late in the fourth quarter.
Milton completed 29 of 44 passes for 373 yards and four touchdowns to help UCF seal the first undefeated season in program history.
Now, the Knights will prepare for a rematch with Memphis while their coach deals with rumors of his next move. Nebraska, where Frost played quarterback, and Florida are among the programs reportedly interested in the UCF coach.
Frost said he would be spending the weekend with his wife and new baby, and enjoying how far the UCF program has come in his two seasons. The Knights went 0-12 in 2015.
"This place is really special and tonight I saw a glimpse of what it could be," Frost said. "We started at the bottom two years ago. I knew we could be good, but not that it could happen this fast."
Flowers finished 24 of 45 for 503 yards, with four touchdowns. He also led the Bulls in rushing with 102 yards and a touchdown.
"An unbelievable performance by Quinton," South Florida coach Charlie Strong said. "He just played his heart out and gave us everything he's got. What a great player he is."
South Florida scored on its opening possession, with Tyre McCants catching a 47-yard touchdown from Flowers. McCants dragged a UCF defender who was clinging to his jersey into the end zone to give the Bulls a 7-0 lead and igniting a high-scoring first half.
McCants had a career day with 227 yards on nine receptions.
Milton responded to the early deficit by leading three straight scoring drives, capping two of them with short touchdown runs and throwing a 13-yard touchdown pass to Snelson to give UCF a 21-7 lead.
Flowers answered in the second quarter, throwing touchdown passes to Temi Alaka and Mitchell Wilcox. Emilio Nadelman missed the extra point after the touchdown to Wilcox, and the Bulls went into halftime trailing 21-20.
"It was a really great effort," Strong said. "I'm really happy with just how hard we played. We kept battling back."
NOTES: South Florida CB Ronnie Hoggins' interception in the third quarter was the Bulls' 18th of the season, tied for the most in the nation. ... Since 1996, when UCF entered FBS play, no other team has gone winless and then won 10 games in less than two years. The Knights were winless in the 2015-16 season. ... South Florida outgained UCF by more than 150 yards in the first half, but trailed 21-20 due to a missed extra point. ... ... The American Athletic Conference Championship Game will take place Dec. 2 in Orlando, Fla.
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