ORLANDO, Fla. - A disappointing season is over for both Central Florida and Texas-El Paso, but it ended on decidedly different notes for the two Conference USA schools.
UCF (5-7, 3-6) routed UTEP 31-14 to finish the season Friday night, and the Knights had a few more reasons to smile when it was over.
The win stopped a three-game losing streak; junior tailback Latavius Murray ran for a career-high 233 yards and scored three times; and freshman reserve Blake Bortles ran for one touchdown and threw for another.
"It was a tough season as far as reaching expectations," said UCF coach George O'Leary, whose team started the season as defending C-USA champion and was expected to contend for the title again. "But I like the fact our younger kids got better and we've got a very good nucleus to work with coming back."
UTEP (5-7, 2-6) needed a win against the Knights to become bowl eligible. Instead, the Miners trailed 31-0 at one point before scoring twice in the fourth quarter to avoid a shutout. Jordan Leslie caught a 2-yard pass from Nick Lamaison on a fourth-and-goal play and Joe Banyard added a 7-yard scoring run.
"We wanted this game really bad, but they stuffed us on both offense and defense," UTEP coach Mike Price said.
Murray had scoring runs of 40 and 38 yards and grabbed a 6-yard touchdown pass from Bortles. The 6-foot-2, 225-pound junior has been third on the Knights' depth chart most of the season, but tied his season high with 21 carries.
"Coach said this game was about program pride and we definitely accomplished that tonight," Murray said.
Bortles took over for sophomore starter Jeff Godfrey on the last possession of the first quarter and played the rest of the game. He completed 9 of 12 passes for 158 yards, giving the Knights a productive alternative to Murray's rushing.
"I looked at Blake as giving us the best opportunity to win the game," O'Leary said. "I think it's a good thing to have competition (with Godfrey). I wish we had that at every position."
UCF dominated both sides of the ball in the first half on its way to a 24-0 halftime lead. The Knights' defense controlled the action, limiting UTEP to five first downs and 94 yards total offense in the first two quarters.
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