UCF Knights look to bowl to lift spirits

UCF awaits bowl game

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  • | 6:30 a.m. December 1, 2016
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - Can the UCF Knights end their season on a high note? They'll look to do just that at their upcoming bowl game bid.
Photo by: Sarah Wilson - Can the UCF Knights end their season on a high note? They'll look to do just that at their upcoming bowl game bid.
  • Winter Park - Maitland Observer
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The Knights still have three days left to contemplate a regular season-ending loss to USF before they find out what bowl game they’ll be headed to. For the Knights, who at one point led 7-0 over the host Bulls in their annual rivalry game Saturday, things quickly got out of hand in a 48-31 loss.

The Knights shocked the Bulls by scoring on offense in a rapid crossing of the field that started with a 37-yard Adrian Killins return on the opening kickoff, was propelled by McKenzie Milton throwing for 54 yards, and ended with Jawon Hamilton bursting through the USF goal line on a 3-yard carry.

That drive would seem to be a fluke as the Knights’ next six drives ended in five punts and a fumble, while USF took the lead then stretched it to 24-7 before UCF head coach Scott Frost got creative and started a drive with an option pass that scored immediately. On the reverse trick play, halfback Tristan Payton took a rugby toss, cocked and fired downfield 53 yards into Tre’Quan Smith’s hands, and Smith was off to the races to complete the 72-yard play that finally put the Knights back on the scoreboard.

That play, only Payton’s fourth passing attempt of 2016 (all of them on trick plays) was UCF’s longest pass play of the season.

The closest the Knights would come to completing the comeback was the third quarter, when Taj McGowan finished off an eight-play, 44-yard drive with a 3-yard run to make it 31-24.

Four traded punts and a failed USF field goal later, the Knights had the ball back and were driving toward USF territory when Milton began the chain reaction that ended the team’s shot at a win. Four plays into UCF’s drive, Milton threw a pass directly into the hands of USF’s Auggie Sanchez. A play later, USF had a touchdown. On UCF’s next play from scrimmage, Milton was intercepted again. Four minutes of clock management later, the Bulls had a field goal to spread the scoring gap to 41-24 with only 4 minutes left in the game.

The Knights would score one more time, thanks to what may become former starting UCF quarterback Justin Holman’s final touchdown pass in a UCF jersey. But 41-31 was as close as the Knights would get. Twisting the knife with the clock nearly expired; the Bulls ran one more ball in for a touchdown with 11 seconds left.

The game would become the Knights’ best passing showcase all season, with three passers throwing for 338 yards combined — a season high. Milton, who was under center for 42 of the 47 pass attempts, threw for 225 yards with two interceptions and no touchdowns. Both backup QBs, Payton and Holman, collected long passing touchdowns.

Only two Knights gained more than 10 yards on the ground, as the Knights netted 64 in the game — their second worst rushing performance all season, and fifth time in 12 games that they ran for fewer than 100 yards.

“At the end of the day, when they run for over 300 yards and we run for (64)…it’s hard to win those football games,” Frost told UCFKnights.com after the game.

Against the Bulls’ high-powered offense, the Knights’ defense, typically the most valuable of the Knights’ trio of squads, allowed five touchdowns and let a team break 500 yards on offense for the second time this season. Shaquem Griffin again led the team in tackles for loss, this time with two for 12 negative yards.

In the wake of a season-ending losing streak, the Knights await a Sunday announcement of what bowl game they’ll be playing in, as they became eligible for a slot in one of the coveted postseason football games after they won their sixth game of the season against Cincinnati. As it turned out, that would be their last win of the regular season — just enough to qualify to play in a bowl game.

“I think the key to the turnaround was the players, the players attitude,” Frost said after that eligibility-clinching win. “They were hungry to have somebody lead them and show them a new way.”

Winter Park football

The Winter Park Wildcats briefly led the Seminole team that would end their postseason run Friday night at Showalter Field. But that three-point first quarter lead soon faltered as the Seminoles took control and ran away with a 48-31 win that gave them the regional title and ended the Wildcats’ season after two straight postseason wins.

It took the Seminoles less than 2 minutes of field time to take the lead and begin running away with it. But, in what would become a back-and-forth slugfest, the lead would change five times. The Wildcats fought back in every quarter, only letting the Seminoles pull away with back-to-back scores in the fourth quarter. That wild final quarter featured five scores, with the Seminoles tacking on 24 points in the fourth quarter alone.

Running Jordan Pouncey did everything he could to try to keep the Wildcats in the game, rushing for 135 yards on 10 carries for two touchdowns, picking up 35 receiving yards along the way. Quarterback Cameron LeGree threw for 94 yards and ran for another 65, averaging 5 yards per carry in the process. Senior Tommy Daly contributed seven points with his kicking foot and was 100 percent through the uprights in his final game.

On defense, senior Maverick Maensivu had a career game, with 16 total tackles and four tackles for loss. Senior Kyle Moss wasn’t far behind with 11 tackles and two for loss, while senior John Coffee bowled over nine players, three in the backfield.

The loss, which ended the Wildcats’ season at 9-4, came much farther into the season than last year, when the Wildcats finished 5-7 and finished third in their district.


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