Team takes aim at playoffs
Winter Park’s football team had already punched its ticket to the postseason two weeks before Halloween, but the Wildcats have struggled to find a win since that haunted weekend. That curse ended Friday night when they planted a 26-12 win into the turf of the newly renovated Showalter Field.
Olympia (6-3, 3-1) came out on the losing end of that one after Winter Park quarterback Cameron LeGree threw for 82 yards, including a TD, and ran for another 89 and another touchdown to propel the Wildcats to victory. LeGree averaged 11.1 yards per carry in the process. Receiver Cameron Brown hauled in a 30-yarder for the team’s highlight reel TD pass play, while Jake Anderson ripped off a 22-yard run and found the end zone.
Jonathan Griffin-Heard continued his audition for ESPN’s top plays of the week with an 18-yard interception return and 57 yards worth of kick returns, averaging 28.5 yards per return. Maverick Maensivu led the Wildcat defense again with 14 tackles and a sack. Jordan Pouncey broke up three passes and snagged one.
Coming up for the Wildcats (7-4, 4-0), they line up against Wekiva in the first round of the Florida High School Athletic Association playoffs. The Mustangs are 7-3 on the season after blasting East River 48-14 last week. The game kicks off at 7 p.m. Friday on Showalter Field.
The Eagles’ disastrous season came to a winless close with a 44-0 obliteration at the hands of Boone. On the season, they finished 0-10 and were outscored 463-47, a year after they finished 7-4 and secured a playoff berth.
The Knights’ defense did their best to erase the heartache of their comeback loss against Houston by beating Tulane all by themselves. By the scoreboard, they did just that. The Knights would transform after a languid first half to destroy the Green Wave, with the defense picking up three touchdowns on the way to a 37-6 win.
The game played out like a polar opposite of the Knights’ disappointing collapses against Temple and Houston in October. This time, rather than coming out strong and falling apart late, they only scored once in the first half, then ran roughshod over the Green Wave in the second.
Tulane actually made it onto the scoreboard first after Adrian Killins took the first play from scrimmage and fumbled it directly into Tulane hands. Gifted a short field, the Green Wave flowed 42 yards downfield, eating 2:30 of clock time in the process, eventually finding the end zone. The Knights’ A.J. Wooten would leap up to block the extra point attempt, a harbinger of the bad times to come for Tulane. The Green Wave would never score again in the game.
For the Knights, a series of blown drives added to a hint of desperation in the air against a Tulane team that had yet to win an American Athletic Conference game. It didn’t help when quarterback McKenzie Milton, fresh off a nightmare loss in Houston where he threw two interceptions, threw an interception on UCF’s first drive after the UCF fumble and Tulane touchdown.
Two drives later, the Knights’ special teams again pulled off some magic by making Tulane’s kicking team miss a 44-yard field goal attempt. With just under 8 minutes left to play in the first half, UCF finally scored, the big yardage to get them downfield coming off a 28-yard Milton to Killins pass.
From that moment forward, the fuse was lit for the Knights. But most of the five touchdowns that followed came thanks to the defense, not the offense. Milton stopped getting intercepted and eventually threw for 85 yards — with Justin Holman coming in for three pass attempts, completing them all for 60 yards ¬— but two big interceptions were the story of the game.
By the end of the game, defensive back Drico Johnson had more yards than any of the Knights’ receivers after he snatched a pass from Tulane QB Glen Cuiellette and returned it 86 yards. Shaquill Griffin’s two interceptions totaled 33 yards, giving him more pass yardage than four Knights who caught a ball in the game.
All put together the Knights amassed just shy of 300 yards on offense, with Killins collecting 47 yards on the ground and 61 in the air.
Coming up, the Knights face a Cincinnati team that gave them nightmares in seasons past, but has seen a near-total collapse in 2016. The Bearcats are 4-5 overall but only 1-4 in AAC play. They’ve lost four of their last five games, including a 20-3 loss to BYU (5-4).
The Knights managed to avoid the Bearcats in their Cinderella first season in the AAC in 2013, when they went on to win the conference championship and then shock Baylor in the Fiesta Bowl. Scheduling kept them apart for 2014 also, as the Knights adjusted to life without Blake Bortles. But 2015 the Knights pulled the unlucky card and had to face the Bearcats on the road. The resulting 52-7 obliteration was the second biggest blowout the Knights would suffer all year. In that game, the Knights’ defense had one of its worst games in team history, allowing 726 yards by the Bearcats.
Now it’s UCF’s shot at revenge and a chance to even the series at 1-1. To do that, they’ll need to rein in Milton’s propensity for getting picked off. The Bearcats are tied for the second most interceptions in the nation, with 15. Incidentally UCF’s defense has more interception return yards than Cincinnati — 231 to 214.
For the Knights, whose offense has seen sporadic results this year, turnovers could determine the game. When they defeated the Green Wave, the Knights’ defense scored 18 of the team’s 30 points in the second half of the game. Their last touchdown drive of the game started after an interception.
The game starts at noon Saturday, televised on ESPNU and broadcast on 96.9 The Game.