Tulsa Falls In C-USA Title Game

Saturday, December 1st 2007, 10:57 pm
By: News On 6

ORLANDO, Fla. (AP) - Kevin Smith ran for 284 yards and four touchdowns, moving into second place behind Barry Sanders on the NCAA's single-season rushing list, and Central Florida beat Tulsa 44-25 for the Conference USA championship on Saturday.

Smith, the nation's leading rusher, entered the game fourth all-time with 2,164 yards, 464 behind Sanders' 1989 total. The UCF junior had 24 carries for 161 yards at halftime, and made that total even more gaudy with a 74-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.

Smith has 1,000 yards and 11 TDs in his last four games. He passed Marcus Allen's 1981 total of 2,342 with a six-yard run in the third quarter, and still has another game to play. UCF (10-3, 8-1) will close its season with a Liberty Bowl appearance.

It was the second time in three years the teams played for the conference championship. Tulsa (9-4, 6-3) won in 2005, but the Golden Hurricane's star quarterback Paul Smith made too many mistakes this time.

Paul Smith passed for 426 yards, his third 400-yard game this season, on 28 of 55 completions, but threw three interceptions. Two were in the second half, and each one happened inside or near the end zone.

UCF led 31-23 at halftime, but couldn't stop Paul Smith early. The Golden Hurricane, the country's top offense with 548 yards a game, rolled up 376 yards and 13 first downs. The Knights let Smith slip out of several third-and-long situations with long completions over the middle, including a 29-yarder to Trae Johnson on third-and-12 that set up Tulsa's first score.

But the Knights clamped down in the second half, pressuring Smith into Tulsa's third-worst offensive outing of the season. UCF used the same blueprint when the teams met in the regular season, picking off four Smith passes in a 44-23 win.

Down 37-23, Tulsa stayed alive when Paul Smith found Brennan Marion for a 33-yard completion on fourth down to the Knights' 3-yard-line. Despite four chances at point-blank rage, Tulsa couldn't score until it turned the ball over on downs and tackled UCF QB Kyle Israel for a safety.

After a 27-yard return, Tulsa started on UCF's 46, but couldn't get a first down.

Knights coach George O'Leary saved a touchdown in the second quarter after Paul Smith ran in an eight-yard draw. The Golden Hurricane was lined up for the extra point, but O'Leary challenged, saying Tulsa had 12 players on the field. The review showed he was right, and Tulsa came away without any points when Smith was intercepted by Johnell Neal at the 5-yard-line.

UCF cornerback Joe Burnett scored UCF's first TD on an 83-yard punt return. It was the school's first since the conference title game last year, when he ran one back for 68-yards.

But the real offense was coming from the Smiths. Tulsa's senior Paul turned in his 13th straight 300-yard game after never having one before this year.

Kevin Smith passed Allen for the all-time NCAA lead in season rushing attempts with 415, 12 more than the former USC back. His four touchdowns gave him 30 on the season, fourth-best in history behind Sanders (39), Boise State's Brock Forsey (32) and Louisiana Tech's Troy Edwards (31).