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Miami Downs Central Florida, 20-14

Oct. 11, 2008

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Miami (AP)Graig Cooper had a career-high 23 rushes for 90 yards, including the clinching touchdown after a muffed punt return late in the fourth quarter and Miami pulled out a sloppy 20-14 victory over Central Florida on Saturday to snap a two-game losing streak.

Robert Marve found Travis Benjamin with a 25-yard touchdown pass in the opening quarter for Miami (3-3), offsetting part of a three-interception day for the Hurricanes’ starting quarterback.

Miami’s defense simply overwhelmed the Knights, forcing Central Florida (2-4) into a school-record 12 punts and only allowing 78 yards.

Joe Burnett had a 91-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, Shar’eff Rashad had two interceptions and Johnell Neal returned one of Marve’s turnovers for a Central Florida TD.

The Knights were poised to get the ball back trailing 12-7 with 5 1/2 minutes left, but Burnett – major college football’s active career leader in punt returns – dropped the ball at his own 16, Sam Shields recovered for Miami at the 5, and Cooper rushed in on the next play. Jacory Harris ran in the 2-point conversion, and Miami had what seemed like a safe 20-7 lead.

Before Cooper’s TD, the teams had gone 24 combined possessions without an offensive point.

The ensuing kickoff was nullified by a penalty against Miami’s DeMarcus Van Dyke, giving Burnett chance to redeem himself. He took advantage, going 92 yards for a touchdown and making the score 20-14.

The Knights had one more chance, but on fourth-and-4 from the Miami 36 with 1:52 left, Rob Calabrese’s pass for Brian Watters was knocked down by Miami’s Darryl Sharpton, and the Hurricanes ran out the clock.

Central Florida came in with 10 interceptions this season, tied for third-best in the nation, and the Knights padded those stats quickly. Marve threw an interception to Rashad on the game’s opening drive.

Miami escaped that one unscathed, but wasn’t so lucky with the second.

Marve telegraphed a pass toward Benjamin, Neal stepped in front and went 62 yards for a score that drew the Knights within 10-7.

It didn’t get easier for Marve, whose third interception came 27 seconds before halftime. He went into the half having completed only 4 of 11 passes for 40 yards, most on the score to Benjamin.

The halftime stats were baffling. Miami outgained Central Florida 168-42, held nearly a 2-to-1 edge in time of possession, allowed Calabrese to connect on just 4 of 18 passes (including eight straight incompletions in one stretch), forced seven punts and blocked one of them – yet still led by only a field goal.

Central Florida had chances, plenty of them.

The Knights started three possessions in Miami territory in the game’s first 15 minutes, and not only didn’t score on any, managed zero yards in those series.

And late in the third quarter, the Knights wasted another golden opportunity.

Still down 10-7, Burnett stood at midfield and got drilled by Shields before the ball arrived, costing the Hurricanes a 15-yard penalty. But Central Florida managed minus-5 yards before kicking the ball away once again, the Knights’ 11th punt in the first three quarters.