ORLANDO, Fla. – Central Florida’s mantra, the one that’s printed on posters hanging outside Bright House Networks Stadium, is one word.
On Saturday, the Knights did not.
After leading 10-7 at home going into halftime, the Knights scored only six more points throughout the remainder of the game, falling to Missouri 21-16.
The first quarter was dominated offensively by Central Florida running back Storm Johnson, who repeatedly broke to the outside and picked up 70 rushing yards on only six carries. The Knights were held to only one score though, a 42-yard field goal by UCF kicker Shawn Moffitt.
Freshman receiver Dorial Green-Beckham ensured that the lead didn’t last long. On the first play of the next drive, quarterback James Franklin hit a streaking Green-Beckham down the right side. The freshman caught the ball in stride, shed a tackle and took off, scampering 50 yards after contact for a touchdown.
Once Green-Beckham – a 6-foot-6, 220-pound receiver – shrugged off the undersized defender, there was nothing but green grass in front of him. His first college touchdown was decided 50 yards before he hit the end zone.
“After I broke the tackle, I knew that I had it,” Green-Beckham said with a wide smile. “I was like, ‘Okay, it’s over then.’ Just a race to the end zone.”
The flashy score lit a social media fire nationwide, and within minutes the phrase "DGB" was trending nationally on Twitter. Former Missouri receiver Jerrell Jackson got in on the act.
“What the world been waiting for!!! 80 yard Touchdown #DGB,” Jackson tweeted after the play.
The Knights answered on the next drive. Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles connected with receiver Quincy McDuffie on a bubble screen. He secured the ball at the Missouri 12-yard line, broke Kip Edwards’ attempted tackle and pranced 12 yards into the end zone. The Knights took a 10-7 lead with the extra point, and they carried the lead into halftime.
The Tigers got the jolt of life they desperately needed midway through the third quarter when Marcus Murphy, settling under a booming punt at his own 34-yard line, took matters into his own hands (and feet).
After catching the ball, Murphy sprinted a few steps forward, breaking back to his left around a would-be tackler. He took off down the left sideline, his path cleared by the Missouri coverage team, and reached the end zone with ease. The score was his third return touchdown of the season – a school record – and it gave Missouri a 14-10 lead.
From there, the Tigers did their best to hold on. Running back Kendial Lawrence took over on a two-play drive early in the fourth quarter. On the first play, Lawrence took the handoff and cut right around the edge at Central Florida’s 43-yard line before breaking back up the middle for a 33-yard gain. At the 10-yard line, he took another handoff while running to his left, stopped in his tracks, cut back right and sprinted into the end zone. Franklin provided a key block that paved the way.
On the sideline after the play, Franklin, who threw for 257 yards with a touchdown and an interception in the win, made sure his running back was aware of his contribution.
“Did you see my block?” Franklin asked Lawrence eagerly.
“Yeah, it didn’t really help,” he smugly replied.
After scoring a touchdown on an 18-yard pass from Bortles to receiver Jeff Godfrey to narrow the lead to 21-16, the Knights got the ball back with 2:44 to play.
On the second play of the drive, Bortles completed a seven-yard pass to Godfrey, who snatched it away from Missouri cornerback Randy Ponder. Missouri’s E.J. Gaines wrapped him up from behind though, swatting at the ball and knocking it out. Missouri would recover and run out the clock.
Central Florida had a chance to finish on Saturday. Because of Gaines’ timely swipe, it could not.
After the tight win, Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel sat in the visitors' media room in front of a microphone, looking visibly worn from the stress. His voice was raspy, the product of a game’s worth of yelling and fretting.
Though it may not have been the win Missouri was capable of, Pinkel was satisfied with the final result.
“I don’t care how it looked. It was a great win,” he said. “In my business, when you win it’s a great win. We’ll go back and try to fix things and make them better, but we’re not interested in looking pretty. I want to flat win.”