Bortles’ 4 scores defeats Ball State

UCF flies to a fast start against the Cardinals in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Knights stifled Ball State’s high-powered offense in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl on Friday night in St. Petersburg, Fla. Enlarge photo

Chris O’Meara/Associated Press

Central Florida quarterback Blake Bortles threw for three touchdowns and ran for another as the Knights stifled Ball State’s high-powered offense in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl on Friday night in St. Petersburg, Fla.

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla.

Blake Bortles threw for three touchdowns and ran for a fourth to lead Central Florida to a 38-17 rout of Ball State in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl on Friday night.

Bortles threw first-half touchdown passes of 7 and 5 yards to Latavius Murray, who also scored on a 2-yard run to help the Knights (10-4) win their final game as a member of Conference USA.

Ball State (9-4) was hoping to finish with at least 10 wins for the third time in school history. Its high-powered offense, however, sputtered while being held to a season-low point total.

Keith Wenning threw a 7-yard touchdown pass to Willie Snead early in the second quarter, but the Cardinals didn’t get into end zone again until Snead scored on a 16-yard reception with 5 minutes remaining.

Bortles completed 22 of 33 passes without an interception, and his three touchdown passes were a career-best and tied the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s Bowl record.

Wenning was 22 of 34 for 217 yards and two touchdowns for Ball State, which had a six-game winning streak snapped before an announced crowd of 21,759.

UCF, which will move into the Big East next season, rebounded from an overtime loss in the Conference USA title game to finish with double-digit victories for the third time since stepping up to the Football Bowl Subdivision. The Knights also won 10 in 2007 and 2010, when they were Conference USA champions.

The Knights’ loss to Tulsa in the Conference USA title game kept them close to home for the postseason. Instead of heading to the Liberty Bowl for the second time in three years, coach George O’Leary and his players settled for a 100-mile trek west from Orlando to Tropicana Field, the home of Major League Baseball’s Tampa Bay Rays.

O’Leary also brought his team to St. Petersburg in 2009, losing to Rutgers by three touchdowns. Friday night’s victory improved the 66-year-old coach’s record to 4-5 in bowl games, including a 2-3 mark with UCF.

Ball State’s first bowl appearance since 2008 is the latest step in an impressive turnaround under coach Pete Lembo, whose team suffered early losses to Clemson, Kent State and Northern Illinois before winning six in a row down the stretch to put themselves into a position to fill the Big East’s slot in the Beef ‘O’ Brady’s game because the league didn’t have enough bowl-eligible teams to meet its commitment.

The Cardinals beat two teams (Indiana and South Florida) from BCS conferences in the same season for the first time. They had the MAC’s second-most productive offense at 471.3 yards and 35 points per game.