TULSA, Okla. - UCF will head to the Big East without another Conference USA championship.
Alex Singleton ran for 100 yards and plunged over the top for a 1-yard score in overtime to lift Tulsa to a 33-27 victory over the Golden Knights on Saturday for its first Conference USA title and Liberty Bowl bid since 2005.
It was the final game in C-USA play for Central Florida, which will settle for a close-to-home trip to the Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl in St. Petersburg, Fla.
"We're both the best in the conference and it showed," offensive lineman Jordan Rae said. "They made a couple more plays than we did. You have to give them credit."
Singleton came up with just the second 100-yard game of his career, breaking the school record for touchdowns in the process.
After Cory Dorris blocked Shawn Moffitt's 38-yard field goal on Central Florida's possession to start overtime, Tulsa (10-3) kept the ball on the ground on five straight plays. Singleton was initially given a touchdown on second-and-goal, but officials ruled on replay that he was down inside the 1.
Given one last chance to knock the ball loose or otherwise make a game-saving play, UCF couldn't keep the burly back from doing what he does best: scoring in short yardage.
"We didn't make plays when we needed to, both on offense and defense. It came down to one more stop or us putting the ball in the end zone one more time," said running back Latavius Murray, who became the first player in UCF history to rush for touchdowns in eight straight games in a single season.
No replay was needed for Singleton's final score, the 41st overall of his career and the 40th on the ground. In the second quarter, Singleton broke Tarrion Adams' school mark for the most touchdowns in school history with a 7-yard run.
"It's pretty obvious whenever we get seven offensive linemen in and Big Al back there that we're going to come at you and he's going to hit you in your mouth," quarterback Cody Green said.
"Just give the ball to Alex, and he's going to run some people over," said Trey Watts, who was named MVP after making the play of the game on a 54-yard punt return TD to tie it at 27 with 5:06 remaining.
Blake Bortles threw for 194 yards and a pair of 8-yard touchdown passes to Breshad Perriman and Quincy McDuffie for UCF (9-4). He also ran for 60 yards and another score.
"It's very disappointing, to come that far, have it down in overtime, miss the field goal and have them score a touchdown," Murray said. "We didn't come here to lose and we just have to do what we have to do and make sure we win the bowl game."
Watts tied it on an unusual play, picking up a punt that had been batted forward by UCF's Kemal Ishmael and then racing 54 yards up the Tulsa sideline for a touchdown.
Golden Knights coach George O'Leary said players told him they thought they heard a whistle to stop the play, but that was no excuse. He said the only safe play in that situation is to pick up the ball and hand it to an official.
"The kid went up and smacked the ball, which is not real smart. If you're going to do that, grab the ball," O'Leary said.
Counterpart Bill Blankenship, meanwhile, heaped praise on Watts — the son of ex-Oklahoma quarterback and congressman J.C. Watts — for understanding there was nothing to lose by picking up the bouncing ball after Ishmael had leaped to swing at it.
"Once they touch the ball, there's really no harm, no foul for us. Even if he ran and fumbled, it would go back to the original touching if we wanted it to," Blankenship said. " ... Trey's just a smart, smart, smart kid and a playmaker."
After Watts' score, A.J. Bouye blocked Daniel Schwarz's extra-point attempt to preserve the tie.
Tulsa limited Murray to short gains and then forced an incomplete pass by Bortles in overtime, leading to Moffitt's field goal try.
The Golden Hurricane dumped a cooler on Blankenship after what looked like the game-winning touchdown, but got to celebrate again after Singleton's "second" score. Offensive lineman Jared Grigg zoomed around the field to hold up a Conference USA champions sign to the crowd, and the team mobbed near midfield to accept a bid to the Liberty Bowl.
"We're excited to be going to Memphis," Blankenship said. "That's big time."
It was the third time the teams have met in the Conference USA championship game since 2005, and the last chance for it to happen before UCF departs for the Big East next season.
Tulsa won it in '05, with the Golden Knights taking the crown in '07. The Golden Hurricane took the rubber match by winning the second meeting between the teams at H.A. Chapman Stadium in three weeks.
Watts also had 134 yards rushing. Cody Green threw for 153 yards, with just 41 after halftime as the Golden Hurricane relied on their ground game to produce 290 yards — surpassing 200 for the ninth time this season.
Murray scored on a 2-yard TD run to cut Tulsa's lead to 21-20. The extra point was blocked by Trent Martin, but Bortles' 28-yard scramble put the Golden Knights up 27-21 late in the third quarter.
UCF then had back-to-back three-and-outs before Watts tied it with his return.
"It's tough. We all want to win. We gave it our best and we came up short," Rae said. "They beat us on one extra play."
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