ORLANDO -- Talk about making up for last year.
UCF wide receiver J.J. Worton did more than just say that the Knights would atone for their surprising defeat at the hands of FIU a year ago in the first meeting ever between the two schools. The redshirt sophomore from South Dade High School backed up his words with multiple big plays Saturday.
Fittingly, the biggest of those involved another South Florida connection — Jeff Godfrey of Miami Central — and dealt what served as the knockout blow to the Panthers in their 33-20 loss to the Knights.
Worton recorded his first touchdown of the season by hauling in a 10-yard pass from Godfrey, a receiver converted from quarterback, with four minutes to go in the third quarter. It was the highlight to a performance in which he had a game-high five receptions for 94 yards and also returned four punts in the first half for 48 yards.
“We were devastated last year when we went down there and lost,” he said. “My folks were there. All my friends were in. So it was something personal. We all went out with a hunch on our backs, and we definitely got it done.”
Worton and Godfrey were grinning from ear to ear describing the play that gave UCF a 30-7 lead. For that matter, they could barely contain their happiness before getting to the line prior to the snap and Godfrey took a handoff from Blake Bortles on what appeared to be a run.
“We were talking in the huddle and looking at each other and laughing,” Worton said. “It was designed if it was [man-to-man coverage], he would run it and I’d block.
“It was man, but he decided to throw it to me, and I made the play on it.”
Said Godfrey, a junior who was the Conference USA Freshman of the Year in 2010: “That felt amazing to get the football in my hand. I hadn’t thrown all season, all preseason. So going out there and throwing that touchdown felt like I was being a quarterback again.”
Worton’s score took place two plays after a third UCF wide receiver with ties to Miami-Dade County made an impact. Rannell Hall of Carol City, who already had a 16-yard touchdown catch to his credit, made a diving grab on a long pass from Bortles for a gain of 47 yards. The play was originally ruled incomplete but ended up being reviewed and overturned.
Hall had the wind knocked out of him when he landed on the football but was back on his feet by the time the referee announced the catch counted.
FIU’s struggles in the first half began when Bortles found Worton behind the secondary and hit him for a 36-yard pickup. Panthers safety Johnathan Cyprien brought him down at the 5, but the Knights scored their first touchdown three plays later.
Worton set a UCF freshman record with 41 receptions last season and had seven catches for 96 yards a week ago at Ohio State. He joined Akron’s Imani Davis and Duke’s Conner Vernon on the growing list of players from the Miami area to have given FIU fits.
Bortles connected on 20 of his 30 passes for 251 yards, with half of his completions going to Worton, Godfrey or Hall. That still wasn’t enough to satisfy UCF coach George O’Leary heading into a bye week before the Knights take on a more formidable opponent in Missouri.
“He had his ups and downs out there,” O’Leary said. “He’s playing well enough to win. I don’t think he’s playing well enough to beat good teams, which we have to win to win the conference.”