ORLANDO, Fla. -- The evening began with Moise Plancher learning he would make his first start in two years. It ended with No. 17 South Florida beating Central Florida 31-24 in overtime, and the running back paying tribute to the late cousin who was on his mind all night.
Ereck Plancher, a UCF freshman receiver who died during offseason conditioning drills, was remembered with a moment of silence before the game. His teammates are honoring him by wearing decals on their helmets, and the initials "EP" are painted on the Knights' field behind the end zone where Moise scored a first-quarter touchdown.
"I was just proud to wear Plancher on the back of my jersey representing my cousin. ... I didn't know I was going to start. It meant a lot to me," said Moise, who had mixed emotions about facing Ereck's team.
"Especially [Friday] when we came to look at the field. It's pretty hard," he added. "I just tried to stay focused. I had a lot of support, family and friends."
Matt Grothe threw for 346 yards and three touchdowns, including a 25-yarder to Taurus Johnson in overtime, to pace the victory in the final scheduled meeting between the rivals whose campuses are barely 100 miles apart.
UCF's Michael Greco threw touchdown passes of 13 yards to Corey Rabazinski and 31 yards to Rocky Ross within a span of 66 seconds to make it 24-all with 1:40 remaining in regulation. The game went into overtime after South Florida's Delbert Alvarado hooked a 42-yard field goal attempt to the left in the closing seconds.
"We knew it would be a heck of a game. It is hard to beat a team four times in a row," Bulls coach Jim Leavitt said.
Grothe put South Florida (2-0) ahead with his TD throw to Johnson, who had six catches for 143 yards, on third down. UCF's bid to extend the game to a second OT was stopped inches shy when the Bulls' Tyrone McKenzie and Brouce Mompremier tackled Greco for a 5-yard gain on fourth-and-6 from the 21.
UCF coach George O'Leary thought Greco had the first down, but said the final play was not the difference.
"When you have the opportunity to make plays you have to make plays," O'Leary said. "Their quarterback made those plays."
Moise Plancher gained 27 yards on his first carry of the game, then capped South Florida's opening drive with a 14-yard TD run. He started because Mike Ford sat out with an ankle injury and finished with 55 yards on nine carries.
Grothe completed 23 of 40 passes, including scoring throws of 18 and 27 yards to Cedric Hill. He set up the TDs that enabled the Bulls to pull away from a 10-10 halftime tie, with completions of 46 yards to Carlton Mitchell and 37 yards to Johnson.
UCF (1-1) stayed close, thanks to Joe Burnett's 91-yard kickoff return, but didn't get much going offensively until scoring after an interception and Burnett's 35-yard punt return set up the TDs that forced overtime.
Although the series has been a hit with alumni and fans who like the idea of earning so-called "Interstate 4" bragging rights, USF no longer feels it has anything to gain by playing UCF on annual basis.
Instead, coach Jim Leavitt has set his sights on building a rivalry with Miami. The Bulls and Hurricanes have met once, in 2005, and are scheduled to play five consecutive seasons on Thanksgiving weekend beginning next year.
USF won the first three games of the series by a combined 119-43, including a 64-12 blowout last year that left Grothe boasting that the Bulls didn't run up the score, but were simply that much better than the Knights.
This one wasn't nearly as easy.
UCF answered the Bulls' first touchdown on the ensuing kickoff, when Burnett burst through an opening in USF's coverage and brought a sellout crowd of 45,805 to its feet by outracing the pursuit to the end zone.
Nick Cattoi's 38-yard field goal made it 10-10 at the half, however UCF mistakes began catching up with the Knights in the third quarter.
At one point, UCF had 108 yards total offense and 104 yards in penalties, including a costly blocking in the back call that wiped out what would have been a 63-yard interception return for a touchdown by Johnell Neal.
The Knights finished with 12 penalties for 149 yards. The last one, for a false start, left them facing fourth-and-6 on the last play of the game.
"I have never seen so many penalties against one team," Burnett said. "We just need to be able to keep our composure and play through what is going on. ... The penalties really hurt us."