Backup quarterback Mikey Keene tossed a touchdown pass with 20 seconds left and No. 22 UCF escaped with a 46-39 victory over host South Florida on Saturday night in Tampa, Fla.
The Knights had to rally after squandering a 24-point lead in the third quarter.
UCF earned a berth in the American Athletic Conference championship game. The Knights (9-3, 6-2 AAC) will play regular-season winner Tulane in New Orleans next Saturday.
Keene took over in the second half when starter John Rhys Plumlee left the game after apparently aggravating a hamstring injury.
Plumlee rushed for 133 yards and was 9-of-9 passing for 73 yards and a score in the first half in leading UCF to a 28-0 lead midway through the second quarter and a 28-7 cushion at the break.
Keene finished 15-of-19 passing for 129 yards and hit Javon Baker with a 41-yard pass to South Florida's 29-line on the final drive before connecting with Holler on a 14-yard strike for the decisive score. He also had a TD pass to Kobe Hudson.
Byrum Brown was 13-for-20 for 140 yards and a touchdown and rushed for 109 yards and two touchdowns for the Bulls (1-11, 0-8 AAC). His 42-yard TD run gave the Bulls a 39-38 lead with 7:02 remaining but his final pass into the end zone as time ran out fell incomplete.
Brian Battie posted his fifth consecutive triple-digit rushing game to tie a school record set by Jordan Cronkrite in 2012. Battie ended up with 144 yards on 19 carries, including a 14-yard touchdown run.
After their early dominance, the Knights had a disastrous third quarter.
The Bulls scored on Brown's 4-yard run to start the second half, then took advantage of UCF fumbles on consecutive series to add two more scores to outscore the Knights 22-3 in the third quarter.
The Bulls had a scoring opportunity in the first quarter end when Brown's fumble at UCF's 4-yard line sailed into the end zone, where Justin Hodges recovered for a touchback.
The Bulls put together a 15-play, 75-yard scoring drive capped by Brown's 2-yard pass to Sean Atkins with just 40 seconds left in the second quarter before the flood gates opened in the third quarter.
--Field Level Media