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ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) — Central Florida's rally fell well short in a bid for a 10-win season.
Jacoby Brissett threw for 262 yards and one touchdown and Matt Dayes scored on runs of 24 and 15 yards to help North Carolina State beat UCF 34-27 in the Bitcoin Bowl on Friday night at Tropicana Field.
UCF's Justin Holman threw for 291 yards, including TD passes of 6, 14 and 2 yards to Josh Reese, who had six receptions for 75 yards. Reese's second touchdown cut it to 34-20 with 11 minutes remaining.
"It's a bittersweet feeling," Reese said. "We wanted to have a 10-win season."
The Knights (9-4) got the ball back three more times, but couldn't get any closer until Holman threw his 2-yarder to Reese with 1:44 left. NC State's Tyler Purvis recovered the ensuing onside kick, and the Wolfpack ran out the clock.
"Too much, too late offensively," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "We just let the game get out of a whack a little bit."
UCF is a year removed from arguably the biggest victory in school history, an upset of Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl that capped the Knights' first 12-win season.
Going from appearing in a BCS game for the first time to ending the year in St. Petersburg for the second time in three seasons might have been perceived as a letdown except the Knights have continued to prosper after losing star quarterback Blake Bortles to the NFL draft, where he was the third overall selection by the Jacksonville Jaguars.
Holman's Hail Mary pass to Breshad Perriman as time expired gave UCF a 32-30 victory over East Carolina and a share of its second straight AAC championship.
UCF began the night ranked in the top 10 in fewest yards allowed per game, as well as pass efficiency, rushing and scoring defense. But American Athletic Conference co-champions had no answers for Brissett and a supporting cast that amassed 488 yards of total offense - over 200 more than opponents averaged against the Knights during the regular season.
Brissett tossed a 37-yard TD pass to Johnathan Alston to put the Wolfpack (8-5) ahead for good in the second quarter. Running back Shadrach Thornton got NC State going early with an 18-yard scoring pass to Jaylen Samuels.
Brissett was 15 of 26 with no interceptions, completing passes to eight receivers. Thornton rushed for 96 yards on 17 carries and Dayes finished with 78 yards on 13 attempts to key a ground attack that produced 188 yards.
"The defense was getting very, very frustrated," O'Leary said about Brissett. "We'd have him corralled in a phone booth and then out run us. He hurt us with his feet tonight."
NC State is in its second season of rebuilding under coach Dave Doeren, who took over after a highly successful stint at Northern Illinois. The Wolfpack went 0-8 in the ACC and 3-9 overall in 2013, and the four-game improvement in their regular-season record this year matched Mississippi State for the second-biggest in the five power conferences.
"From last season to this season, we went in with the mindset to attack, Brissett said.
The Bitcoin Bowl was a homecoming of sorts for Brissett, who is from West Palm Beach and transferred to NC State from Florida. The 6-foot-4, 231-pound redshirt junior completed 10 of his first 12 passes for 197 yards, including his TD pass to Alston that put the Wolfpack up 14-10 early in the second quarter.
"He takes thing so personal," Doeren said. "He is such a competitor. He gives all the credit to his teammates. He learned a lot throughout this season."
Thornton's first pass attempt of the season resulted in the first TD reception of Samuels' career.
Perriman finished with nine receptions for 138 yards for UCF, which was trying to finish with at least 10 wins for the fourth time in five seasons.
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