- November 16, 2011
An unlikely comeback met with a deja vu conclusion at the St. Petersburg Bowl on Dec. 26, as the Knights suffered their first bowl game loss in their last four appearances.
In that game an early promising lead for the Knights quickly lost out to a dominating offensive performance by N.C. State, which shot out to a 31-13 lead in the third quarter and then weathered a UCF comeback attempt for a 34-27 win.
For the Knights, who went into the game having shocked the nation with a 52-42 upset win over No. 6 Baylor last season at the Fiesta Bowl, the loss was especially painful for the odds it defied. The Knights had been picked as more than 12-point favorites in the game — the biggest vote of confidence for any team in any bowl game this season.
But just as was the case with their Nov. 1 loss against UConn , can’t-lose odds didn’t help the Knights.
By the time the Wolfpack scored their first touchdown of the game, in a deceptively quick drive that lasted just under four minutes, the Knights already seemed in trouble. They allowed Wolfpack QB Jacoby Brissett to split their defense with ease, finding first downs with little contention in the open field. The Knights’ defensive secondary, known for an unusually high pass breakup rate this season, only slapped down two balls the entire game, versus the Wolfpack defense’s 10 breakups.
“We just let the game get out of whack a little bit,” UCF head coach George O’Leary said after the game.
Brissett, who came into the game seemingly behind UCF QB Justin Holman in passing ability, averaged almost 50 percent more yards per completion, and nearly double as many yards per attempt. Though he would narrowly outmatch Holman in passing yards for the game — with 300 to Holman’s 291 — Brissett would seem to find confidence and consistency where Holman could not. Holman was stopped at three-and-out four separate times, just as the Wolfpack were generating a majority of their scores.
The Knights would punt six times in the game — their third most this season.
The combination of poor defense and offense through the mid-game frames would cripple the Knights, as they watched the Wolfpack’s top two running backs rush with impunity, blazing their way to 178 of N.C. State’s 231 ground yards, including two rushing TDs. Meanwhile the Knights would find only 103 total yards on the ground, with Holman in an unusual position of nearly leading the team in rushing.
But then in the fourth quarter, with the Knights having only scored three points in half a game, something clicked. Holman would reel off a drive starting with just over 11 minutes left in the game that would traverse 75 yards in just five plays, ending with a 14-yard pass to Reese. Then after stopping the Wolfpack and watching them push a field goal attempt wide right, the Knights found the end zone again, needing only 1:12 to do it.
In the fourth quarter the Knights would convert two of three fourth down attempts en route to those two touchdowns. But when an on-side kick attempt with less than two minutes remaining failed, the Knights watched N.C. State kneel out the clock for the win.
In the end, the Knights would rely heavily on their passing game only to come up short. The Knights would find none of their end zone strikes on the ground. Holman would connect with senior wide receiver Josh Reese for three touchdowns in the air. Reese’s scoring performance was a career high, sending him out in his final game with 75 yards on six receptions, including all of his team’s touchdowns. The Knights’ top receiver all season, Breshad Perriman, would haul in 138 yards receiving in the game, with Rannell Hall grabbing 78 yards on seven catches.
For the Knights, who had faced N.C. State three times previously, it was déjà vu again. In both of those previous games, the Knights or Wolfpack had built a seemingly insurmountable lead, only to watch the other team come back and fall just short. For both teams, and now twice for the Knights, their losses to each other happened in their own home state.