ORLANDO, Fla. — Nothing was more frustrating for Tulane in its 20-13 loss to UCF on Saturday than a failed drive at the end of the first half that ended on a fourth-down spike to stop the clock.

Quarterback Nick Montana said he thought the Wave had picked up a first down on the previous play before his spike at the UCF 28 gave the ball back to the Knights. Coach Curtis Johnson defended the clock management before then, as Tulane did not go into its two-minute offense right away after taking over at its 25 with 2:18 left.

“That was my strategy,” he said. “In college football, you don’t have to start your two-minute (offense) with two minutes left. Every time you get a first down, the clock stops. We wanted to get it down to about 1:30 before we got in our two-minute (offense). We didn’t want them to get the ball back. That team is a little too explosive for us to give them the ball back.”

Tulane still would have had enough time to attempt a field goal if Montana had not completed a third-down pass to the UCF 28 short of the first down with no timeouts left in the waning seconds. Even if he had not spiked the ball, the clock would have run out if Tulane had tried a regular play.

At that point, it was touchdown or nothing.

During a timeout before Montana’s short completion, Johnson said he was instructed not to do what he did.

“We told him to just throw it away or throw it outside,” Johnson said.

New kickoff returner

Tulane, which was last in the nation in kickoff returns with an average of 15.9 yards after six games, replaced Dontrell Hilliard with Leondre James against UCF and almost had a promising result.

Almost.

After UCF went ahead 10-3 in the second quarter, James returned one all the way inside the Knights’ 10-yard line, but the play was nullified by a holding call on teammate Terren Encalade that may or may not have given him a crease. Tulane started at its own 17 instead.

James finished with three returns for 61 yards.

No flag

The teams combined for 17 penalties and 151 yards, but Johnson would have liked to see one more flag fly.

On Tulane’s final offensive snap, Montana avoided a sack, stepped up and threw a deep pass to James, who was being face-guarded by safety Jay Ozerites. Ozerites never turned around while making contact with James.

“It looked like that play would have been called against us,” Johnson said. “It’s like something happening to your own kids — you always blame somebody else, but we had opportunities to win the game and they were the better team today.”

Not like 2010

Tulane had a better start and a better finish than the last time it played UCF.

In 2010 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome, UCF returned the opening kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown, sparking a 31-point first quarter. The Knights then returned an interception 100 yards for a touchdown on the final play of the game, completing a 61-14 demolition.

Lagniappe

The announced attendance was 35,015, the lowest of the season for UCF. The Knights were averaging 43,028 fans, third-most among teams not in one of the power-five conferences behind BYU and East Carolina. ... Tulane’s captains were center Nathan Shienle, defensive end Royce LaFrance and kicker Andrew DiRocco. ... Tulane’s streak of not committing a turnover ended at nine quarters when Montana threw an interception in the second quarter.