UCF falls short of 10-win season with loss in Bitcoin Bowl


Bryce Brimhall / Valencia Voice

Josh Reese caught a Bitcoin Bowl record three touchdown catches and was named UCF’s MVP for the game in the loss to NC State.

ST. PETERSBURG — Jacoby Brissett looked nearly impossible to tackle as he went 15-26 for 262 yards passing and a touchdown to help the NC State Wolfpack defeat UCF 34-27 in the Bitcoin St. Petersburg Bowl at Tropicana Field on Friday night.

The UCF defense had trouble bringing down Brissett all game long as the junior quarterback went for 31 yards on the ground, but those stats don’t represent the amount of tackles he broke that helped set up big plays for NC State.

“He’s a big quarterback, if you try to tackle him high you’re not going to bring him down,” said Troy Gray about trying to bring down Brissett. “So you’ve just got to go low on him and I think that’s one of the biggest things people were doing was going high on him and it’s something that we just can’t do with a big quarterback.”

Brissett was named the Bitcoin Bowl MVP for his performance against the Knights, as he at time single handedly willed NC State with both his feet and his arm.

Justin Holman gave UCF the lead when he hit Josh Reese with six-yard touchdown pass, putting the Knights up 10-7 early in the second quarter. But Brissett responded immediately when he hit Johnathan Alston for a 37-yard touchdown, putting NC State back in front 14-10 with 9:05 left in the opening half.

Holman finished the game 23-53 passing for 291 yards, three touchdown and an interception in his first-ever bowl game under center. He at times looked stellar in the pocket finding Breshad Perriman for big plays, but there were times where his offensive line couldn’t protect him from NC State’s pass rush, forcing him to make bad throws.

“He was under duress a lot tonight as far as protection is concerned,” said UCF head coach George O’Leary about his first-year quarterback. “I thought he threw way too many short long passes where you have a step on those guys with the receivers we have we’d like to get some air under the ball a little bit,

“I thought he made some very, very, very good throws and some throws he’d like to have back.”

The Wolfpack extended their lead to 17-10 late in the second quarter after they settled for a 19-yard field goal when UCF stopped them on 3rd and goal. NC State had a chance to extend their lead in the winding second of the first half, but a Miles Pace sack of Brissett sent UCF to the locker room only trailing 17-10.

Things wouldn’t get any better for the Knights in the third quarter as NC State outscored UCF 14-3 in the third quarter thanks to two touchdown runs from Matt Dayes, giving the Wolfpack a 31-13 lead going into the fourth quarter.

“We just let the game get out of whack a little bit and you can’t do that,”  said O’Leary after the game. “Again I give credit to NC State, I thought defensively we had way too many opportunities we didn’t take advantage of as far as missed tackles and broken plays they made for first down that you can’t allow to happen and I think that was the difference in the game.”

Dayes finished the game with 82 yards and two touchdowns on 13 attempts, while Shadrach Thornton added 96 yards on the ground to go along with his passing touchdown.

UCF would try and make things interesting in the fourth when Holman hit Reese twice for touchdowns, cutting NC State’s lead to 34-27, but that would be as close as the Knights would get before the Wolfpack clinched their eighth win of the season.

Reese was named UCF’s MVP for the game, as the senior wide receiver had a Bitcon Bowl record three touchdown catches for the game.

“I feel a little down, but I’m glad I got to play four or five years with these guys and for coach giving me the opportunity,” said Reese after the game. “We always prepared for that championship and we did that and then we wanted to get a 10-win season so it’s kind of a downfall like we didn’t get it, and like coach said most of it was on us. It’s a bittersweet feeling.”

With the loss UCF finishes with a 9-4 record for the season while falling to 3-4 all-time in bowl games. The Knight’s loss to NC State snapped a three-game winning streak in bowl games for UCF that started with a 10-6 win in the 2010 AutoZone Liberty Bowl.

UCF can expect to improve on their American Athletic Conference winning season as they only lose Rannell Hall and Justin Tukes at the skill positions on the offensive side of the ball. The real challenge during the offseason will be finding replacements for the stout senior defense that helped the team win so many games in the past.

“I thought the kids progressed well, especially at the positions that we thought we were weak at at the beginning of the season,” said O’Leary. “And we still have a bunch of young kids coming back that are going to be very good football players,

“Hopefully they learn from a game like tonight that hard work never stops and you’ve got to continue to work hard if you’re going to get better.”

Terrance Plummer, Clayton Geathers, Brandon Alexander, Troy Gray, Jordan Ozerities and Jaryl Mamea will all be gone from the Knights’ defense, but look for defensive backs Jacoby Glenn, D.J. Killings and Shaquill Griffin to play big roles next season for UCF.