MIAMI -- Florida International's Isame Faciane returned a fumble by Central Florida quarterback Jeff Godfrey 51 yards for a score and Darriet Perry added a touchdown run as the Panthers overcame an injury to star receiver T.Y. Hilton to outlast Central Florida 17-10 Saturday night.
The win moved the Panthers to 3-0 for the first time in school history and ended the Knights' best start since 1988. UCF coach George O'Leary was also denied his 100th career coaching win.
FIU earned the victory despite Hilton going went down with an apparent right hamstring injury late in the first half. The receiver returned in the third quarter and lasted only two plays with one pass thrown his way that fell incomplete before he sat out the rest of the contest.
But the Panthers defense picked up the slack, sacking Godfrey six times.
Armed with some favorable field position, FIU moved the ball well on offense early on and got Hilton free over the middle for some early receptions.
That momentum took a blow with 5:47 left in the second quarter, though, when Hilton went down.
Hilton had gotten free on a slant behind the UCF secondary and was reaching for a pass from quarterback Wesley Carroll inside the UCF 5-yardline. It trickled off Hilton's fingers and he stumbled awkwardly into the end zone.
He sat up as trainers examined his leg and stretched his hamstring on the field for a few minutes and was brought to his feet before being quickly whisked away to the locker room where he stayed for the remainder of the half.
Hilton's day ended with three catches for 30 yards and also carried once for six yards before his injury.
The Miami high school product jumped onto the national stage after shining in the Panthers' first two wins. He came into Saturday leading the nation with 333 receiving yards and ranked second with 551 all-purpose yards.
Carroll kept the Panthers' offense moving without him, completing 15 of 29 throws for 126 yards. Kedrick Rhodes led the rushing attack, carrying 16 times for 90 yards.
Godfrey was 17 of 27 for 181 yards for the Knights. He also rushed 18 times for 25 yards and had UCF's lone touchdown.
FIU took its first lead of the game, 14-7, on a 4-yard touchdown run by Darriet Perry with 9:43 left in third quarter. The play was set up by a fumbled punt return by UCF's Josh Robinson, who has had trouble in cleanly fielding punts in the Knights first two outings this season.
The Panthers added a Jack Griffin 27-yard field goal with 1:41 remaining in the third to push the lead to 10. A late field goal by UCF closed the Knights within 17-10 to provide the final margin.
An active opening 30 minutes ended with a 7-7 tie at the half.
FIU's offense has gotten most of the attention for the Panthers this season, but was its defense that didn't make things easy on UCF early and pinned the Knights inside their own 10 on each of their first two touches of the night.
The Knights punted on their opening possession of the game, before finding traction on their next one. Using an assortment of runs and short passes they reeled off an 18-play, 94-yard drive touchdown drive that ended with a 1-yard plunge by Godfrey to put UCF up 7-0.
FIU responded quickly and drove to the UCF 35 before Hilton's injury. The drive lost steam after that and ended with Griffin missing a 52-yard field goal.
UCF appeared to be running out the clock in the final minute of the half. But after picking up a few first downs it looked to extend its lead. Facing a 2nd and 15 on FIU's 34 Godfrey dropped back to pass before being grabbed and sacked by Panthers' cornerback Tevin Blanchard, forcing a fumble.
It was scooped up by Faciane and returned 51 yards for the score with just 6 seconds left on the clock.