The University of Tulsa’s recent field goal struggles have been well-documented.
Last-second missed field goals cost the Hurricane wins against Memphis and SMU last season, and TU was off the mark on nine field goals in each of the past two years.
With the addition of freshman scholarship kicker Tyler Tipton, the situation was expected to improve in 2020. But for the game at No. 11 UCF on Saturday night, Tipton did not travel with the team for undisclosed reasons.
That put the placekicking responsibilities on the shoulders of Zack Long, a walk-on senior who handles kickoff duties. Long, who didn’t start playing football until last year, missed the field goal against SMU and hadn’t attempted any since then.
Long calmly hit a 20-yarder in the second quarter for the first points produced after an offensive possession, but a game-tying extra-point attempt in the third quarter hit the right upright and was no good.
With 90 seconds remaining and the game potentially on the line, Long came through in a big way. He connected on a 34-yarder that put his team up eight, keeping momentum on the Hurricane’s side and providing too much of a deficit for UCF to overcome.
“Zack hit a big field goal there at the end,” coach Philip Montgomery said. “We’ve had some close games in the last couple of years and it felt great to come out on top of this one, on the road and in a tough environment.”
To upset the Knights 34-26 for the first road win against a ranked opponent since 1976, TU relied on a variety of special teams plays. Perhaps the biggest one came on the first play of the second half, when Bryson Powers snatched the ball from the UCF returner.
“The play right after half, you can’t put enough emphasis on that,” Montgomery said. “Obviously we’re coming out with a little bit of momentum after the drive (before halftime). They’re probably going in (to the locker room) and saying, ‘We’ve got to come back out and re-establish it’ and then bang — turnover.”
Freshman punter Lachlan Wilson was among the game’s MVPs, four times pinning the high-powered Knight offense inside the 10-yard line including three times inside the 5. At a pivotal moment midway through the fourth quarter, UCF started at its 1-yard line.
“The likelihood of an offense scoring when you start inside the 10 or inside the 5, that percentage goes way down,” Montgomery said. “When you’re back in those situations — and we’ve been in those — it is difficult to continue to maintain drives, and field position is such a huge part of this game.”
Other observations from the Hurricane’s wild comeback from 18 points down:
Quarterback Zach Smith was sacked twice in the painful-to-watch first quarter but not again after that. The offensive line gave good protection, allowing Smith time to get into a rhythm that carried the offense for the remainder.
Skiatook native TK Wilkerson made his first start at running back and came close to a 100-yard outing. He had several crucial runs in the second half and delivered a 24-yard gain on the last play of the third quarter.
On Wilkerson’s 2-yard touchdown that came on a key third down in the third quarter, TU brought in nose guards Jaxon Player and Tyarise Stevenson as lead blockers — and it worked.
Linebacker Justin Wright, who moved into the starting lineup after Yohance Burnett’s preseason knee injury, had the best outing of his young career. He had three tackles for lost yardage including two that led to UCF punts.
Wright and fellow linebacker Zaven Collins were exceptionally disruptive behind the line of scrimmage, totaling 6.5 tackles for loss. The Hurricane is tied for first nationally with a dozen TFLs per game and individually Collins is second with 3.75 per game.
After a penalty-filled performance against Oklahoma State, TU was flagged three times in the first quarter but only on five occasions from there, and three of those were debatable pass-interference calls. While UCF was imploding with false starts, the Hurricane was the picture of composure.
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