Gabriel, No. 13 UCF beat East Carolina 51-28 in AAC opener
By AARON BEARD AP Sports Writer
GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) — Dillon Gabriel threw for 408 yards and four touchdowns to help No. 13 Central Florida beat East Carolina 51-28 on Saturday to open its American Athletic Conference schedule.
Jaylon Robinson and Marlon Williams each had huge games as Gabriel’s top targets for the Knights (2-0, 1-0). Robinson had nine catches for 150 yards and two touchdowns, while Williams had a career-best 13 catches for 136 yards.
Throw in Greg McCrae’s short first-quarter scoring run to lead a productive ground game, and UCF finished with 632 yards with its fast-paced offense pushing the tempo to keep the pressure on. The Knights had a penalty-filled start in the first quarter — including four false-start penalties while trying to get off their first offensive snap — before settling in and blowing the game open with a pair of touchdowns in the final 5 minutes before halftime.
Holton Ahlers threw for 215 yards and three TDs for the Pirates (0-1, 0-1), who were making a delayed start to the season after coronavirus-related scheduling changes. And it came in an essentially empty Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium due to COVID-19 protocols, with only a smattering of player family members in attendance.
ECU scored on its opening drive, but lost three first-half turnovers and didn’t make it back to the end zone until the Knights led 41-7 early in the third. By the time it was over, the school said the Pirates had come within 2 yards of matching the most allowed in any season opener in program history.
UCF: This was the second road game to start the season for the Knights, who opened with a 28-point win at Georgia Tech while amassing 660 yards. While the offense hummed along again, Josh Heupel’s squad will have to start cleaning up a penalty problem. UCF had 19 penalties for 139 yards, with 10 coming in the first quarter and seven of those false-start flags.
ECU: The good news was the Pirates made it to gameday for the first time this season. They were originally scheduled to host Marshall for their opener on Aug. 29, but that game was pushed back to Sept. 12 — and then postponed again to a to-be-determined date after the Pirates had to pause football activities in August due to a coronavirus cluster. Beyond that, it was a rough start to Mike Houston’s second season.
UCF moved up just one spot after the Georgia Tech romp. It’s unclear how the Knights’ position will change now with Big Ten and Pac-12 teams eligible to appear in Sunday’s new Top 25 for the first time since the preseason poll.
UCF: The Knights play their first home game next Saturday against Tulsa.
ECU: The Pirates travel to Georgia State next Saturday.
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