HATTIESBURG, Miss. (AP) - A fierce Central Florida rally fell two yards short, and No. 25 Southern Mississippi escaped an upset bid with a 30-29 win Saturday night.
Central Florida's J.J. Whorton caught a 25-yard touchdown pass as time expired, but Southern Miss safety Jacorious Cotton got a hand on Blake Bortles' 2-point conversion pass to seal the win.
"We knew they were going to be good," Southern Miss coach Larry Fedora said. "And they were really good on defense. We obviously didn't play the game that we wanted. We kept shooting ourselves in the foot, but, again, we found a way to win."
Bortles came on in relief of UCF starter Jeff Godfrey in the first quarter and completed 24 of 34 passes for 248 yards and two touchdowns, with one interception in the loss.
Godfrey completed 7 of 10 passes for 68 yards and didn't appear to be injured when he left the game.
The redshirt freshman who replaced him was 9 of 10 on the final drive, including the touchdown pass, and almost got the ball to Whorton again on the 2-point attempt.
"We came in to win the game and I thought that was our best chance to win it," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "(Bortles) just threw the ball a yard short."
Latavius Murray returned a kickoff 69 yards for a touchdown early in the fourth quarter for the Knights' only other touchdown.
Nick Cattoi was good on all 3 of his field-goal attempts, hitting from 48, 41 and 38 yards.
Central Florida (4-6) has lost 4 of 5 and 6 of 8.
"It's a tough loss," O'Leary said. "We're 4-6 with two games left to get bowl eligible. We've just got to grow from this game and continue to do the things we're doing well."
Southern Miss was turned away in the red zone four times and never established a running game, managing 127 yards on the ground.
The Knights held Southern Miss to three third-down conversions on 14 attempts. 1 of those came with Southern Miss trailing 23-22 on 3rd & 7 from the Southern Miss 23. Davis found Briggs down the sideline for a 34-yard pass, and five plays later, connected for a 4-yard, go-ahead touchdown.
A screen pass to left tackle Lamar Holmes, who checked in as an eligible receiver, gave Southern Miss the 2-point conversion and a 30-23 lead.
Danny Hrapmann made all five field-goal attempts, including kicks from 42, 44 and 48 yards, and hit both extra-point tries to propel Southern Miss to its first 9-1 start since 1962.
USM quarterback Austin Davis threw for 366 yards and two touchdowns.
Southern Miss can clinch the East with a win over UAB on Thursday night in Birmingham or a win over Memphis in Hattiesburg on Nov. 26.
"That's been our goal all year, to win the East," Fedora said. "We're close. We can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We're in the fourth quarter of our season, and we understand that."
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