ORLANDO, FLA., DEC. 1 -- Central Florida matched William and Mary big play for big play and then some to defeat the Tribe, 52-38, in a NCAA Division I-AA football quarterfinal playoff game today.
The seventh-ranked Tribe (10-3) finally met its match against a team that in its first season in Division I-AA had already upset second-seeded Youngstown State.
Central Florida (10-3) will face Georgia Southern, a 28-27 winner over Idaho, next Saturday in a semifinal game in Statesboro, Ga.
As expected, the Florida Citrus Bowl crowd of 20,067 saw an offensive showcase. Touchdowns were scored on the first five possesions, the teams combined for 1,030 total yards and both teams averaged over six yards per play.
But defense, which was considered good if someone forced a punt, proved to be the difference in the second half. The Knights held the Tribe to 10 points and 139 total yards in the second half.
Meanwhile, the Knights scored four touchdowns on five possessions to turn a 28-24 halftime deficit into a 45-31 lead with 9:19 left.
"I don't think we ever demonstrated an ability to stop UCF," said Tribe Coach Jimmye Laycock. "I don't care what you're doing offensively, you've got to make some stops defensively. We gave up way too many big plays. You've got to give Central Florida credit."
After falling behind, 21-14, two Dan Mueller field goals and a Chris Hakel run helped the Tribe take a four-point halftime lead.
The Tribe's defense had settled things down somewhat, stopping the Knights on three consecutive possessions. Junior cornerback Palmer Scaritt intercepted Ron Johnson's pass to set up Hakel's score that proved to be the Tribe's only lead of the contest.
Central Florida regained the lead for good on Willie English's five-yard run with 8:26 left in the third quarter, marching 58 yards in 10 plays.
Mueller tied the game at 31-31 with his third field goal, a 34-yarder.
Then the Knights pulled away. Johnson broke for 45 yards on a quarterback draw, gained 11 more on a keeper, then connected with Sean Beckton to move Central Florida inside the 2. Perry Balasis scored to make it 38-31.
William and Mary went nowhere and punted. Mark Giacone gained 43 yards on a 57-yard drive, including the three-yard score to put the Knights up, 45-31.
Robert Green brought the Tribe back to 45-38 with 4:57 left, scoring on a five-yard sweep.
But Balasis clinched the victory with a touchdown in the final minute.
Hakel matched Johnson touchdown for touchdown in a wild first quarter, connecting with favorite target Mark Compher on a 19-yard score and Michael Locke for another. Johnson threw a 67-yard play-action strike to Beckton 51 seconds into the game and a 23-yarder on the next possesion.
Middle linebacker Eugene Hayes recovered a fumble at the Georgia Southern 23 with 2:27 left to seal the Eagles' 28-27 quarterfinal victory over Idaho in Statesboro, Ga. . . .
Ray Whalen's fourth touchdown, a one-yard run in the third overtime, gave host Nevada-Reno a 42-35 victory over Furman in the longest 1-AA playoff game ever. It will play Boise State, a 20-13 upset winner over No. 1 Middle Tennessee State, in next week's semifinals.
Andrew Hill caught touchdown passes of 41 and 24 yards to carry Indiana, Pa., to a 27-8 victory over defending champion Mississippi College in a semifinal game in Clinton, Miss. . . .
In Fargo, N.D., Tony Satter rushed for 176 yards and a touchdown as North Dakota State beat Pittsburg State of Kansas, 39-29, in the other semifinal. The championship will be next Saturday.
In Hempstead, N.Y., quarterback Ed Dougherty threw two touchdown passes as Lycoming, Pa., upset Hofstra, 20-10, in a semifinal game. Lycoming will play Allegheny, Pa., which defeated Central Iowa, 24-7, in the Amos Alonzo Stagg Bowl next week.