TULSA – Alex Singleton got up and celebrated after muscling his way in for what he thought was the touchdown that clinched the Conference USA championship for Tulsa.
Told he was going to have to try again, there was never any question what was going to happen.
Singleton ran for 100 yards and plunged over the top for a 1-yard score in overtime to lift Tulsa to a 33-27 victory over UCF on Saturday for its first Conference USA title and Liberty Bowl bid since 2005.
“My first championship ever,” Singleton said. “I’m still ecstatic about it. I really can’t even explain it right now. It just feels so good.”
Singleton came up with the second 100-yard game of his career, breaking the school career record for touchdowns in the process.
After Cory Dorris blocked Shawn Moffitt’s 38-yard field goal on Central Florida’s possession to start overtime, Tulsa (10-3) kept the ball on the ground on five straight plays. Singleton was initially given a touchdown on second-and-goal, but officials ruled on replay that he was down inside the 1.
That was no problem for the burly back whose specialty is short yardage.
“We just said, ‘We’re going to get it again and put it in for sure this time so there weren’t no doubts about it,” said Singleton, his bulging biceps popping out of his grey muscle shirt. “So, that’s what we did. They told me that they’re going to submarine, take flight.”
No replay was needed for Singleton’s final score, the 41st overall of his career and the 40th on the ground. In the second quarter, Singleton broke Tarrion Adams’ school mark for the most touchdowns in school history with a 7-yard run.
“It’s pretty obvious whenever we get seven offensive linemen in and Big Al back there that we’re going to come at you and he’s going to hit you in your mouth,” quarterback Cody Green said.
“Just give the ball to Alex, and he’s going to run some people over,” said Trey Watts, who was named MVP after making the play of the game on a 54-yard punt return TD to tie it at 27 with 5:06 remaining.
Blake Bortles threw for 194 yards and a pair of 8-yard touchdown passes to Breshad Perriman and Quincy McDuffie for UCF (9-4). He also ran for 60 yards and another score.
The Golden Knights will play in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl.
“It’s very disappointing, to come that far, have it down in overtime, miss the field goal and have them score a touchdown,” running back Latavius Murray said. “We didn’t come here to lose and we just have to do what we have to do and make sure we win the bowl game.”
Watts tied it on an unusual play, picking up a punt that had been batted forward by UCF’s Kemal Ishmael and then racing 54 yards up the Tulsa sideline for a touchdown.
Golden Knights coach George O’Leary said players told him they thought they heard a whistle to stop the play, but that was no excuse. He said the only safe play in that situation is to pick up the ball and hand it to an official.
“The kid went up and smacked the ball, which is not real smart. If you’re going to do that, grab the ball,” O’Leary said.
Counterpart Bill Blankenship, meanwhile, heaped praise on Watts – the son of ex-Oklahoma quarterback and congressman J.C. Watts – for understanding there was nothing to lose by picking up the bouncing ball after Ishmael had leaped to swing at it.
“Once they touch the ball, there’s really no harm, no foul for us. Even if he ran and fumbled, it would go back to the original touching if we wanted it to,” Blankenship said. “ ... Trey’s just a smart, smart, smart kid and a playmaker.”
After Watts’ score, A.J. Bouye blocked Daniel Schwarz’s extra-point attempt to preserve the tie.
Tulsa limited Murray to short gains and then forced an incomplete pass by Bortles in overtime, leading to Moffitt’s field goal try.
The Golden Hurricane doused Blankenship with a cooler after what looked like the game-winning touchdown, but got to celebrate again after Singleton’s “second” score. Offensive lineman Jared Grigg zoomed around the field to hold up a Conference USA champions sign to the crowd, and the team mobbed near midfield to accept a bid to the Liberty Bowl.
“We’re excited to be going to Memphis,” Blankenship said. “That’s big time.”
Liberty Bowl tickets
Tickets to the AutoZone Liberty Bowl are on sale now at TulsaHurricane-.com for $55.
The game will be played at 2:30 p.m. Dec. 31 in Memphis, Tenn., against an opponent yet to be named.
Tickets will also be on sale Monday by calling 918.631.GoTU (4688) or in person at the Donald W. Reynolds Center on the TU campus.