ORLANDO, Fla. (FNN SPORTS) – The undefeated UCF Knights (11-0) had a nasty fight on their hands that they didn’t appear to be ready for against the Memphis Tigers (8-4) during the American Athletic Conference (AAC) Championship at Spectrum Stadium Saturday. At least at first.
The Tigers scored two touchdowns within the first four minutes of kickoff, the second of which was possible due to Memphis’s J.J. Russell forcing UCF quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. to fumble the ball.
UCF made up for the deficit–at least half of it–with Greg McCrae’s 14-yard run for a touchdown five minutes in, bringing the score to 14-7, Memphis. However, on Memphis’s very next possession, Patrick Taylor dusted the Knights for a 70-yard touchdown run to bring the score to 21-7–with the game only halfway through the first quarter.
UCF couldn’t score again, but on Memphis’s next drive, UCF stopped the run a little more effectively, with Memphis’s help thanks to false start and holding penalties, the latter of which nullified an otherwise scuccesful touchdown. As a result, the Tigers kicked a successful 36-yard field goal, making the score 24-7 with 1:30 left in the first quarter.
Four minutes into the second quarter, UCF scored their next touchdown, bringing the score to 24-14. Given the tricky rolling landing, the play was under review, but confirmed.
UCF’s defense couldn’t hold Memphis’s lightning Henderson, who dusted everyone again with an 81-yard touchdown run. Henderson had racked up 166 rushing yards in the game by this point. The score was now 31-14 Memphis.
For the first time all game, UCF forced Memphis to punt with nine minutes left in the first half, and the trend continued on Memphis’s next possession as well.
With three minutes left in the first half, UCF covered much more ground, between Mack’s 44-yard pass to Gabriel Davis and McCrae’s 47-yard run into the red zone. The Knights closed out the series with a 4-yard touchdown pass to Jake Hescock. After the extra point kick, the score was 31-21.
With less than two minutes left in the half, UCF squandered an opportunity to close the gap with Otis Anderson fumbling a punt return, which Memphis’s Patrick Taylor recovered. The Tigers closed out the half with a four-yard touchdown pass and successful extra point, making the score 38-21 at halftime.
UCF came alive in the second half. The Knights led off with possession in the third quarter and scored fairly quickly with Mack’s 54-yard touchdown pass to Anderson. The score gap shrank to ten points again, 38-28 Memphis. They were able to stop Memphis on their possession by forcing a Memphis turnover and recovering the ball themselves, then scored again with Mack scrambling himself four yards for the touchdown, bringing the score to 38-35.
UCF’s defense held Memphis again on their next possession, forcing a field goal, since the touchdown pass on the third down resulted in a fumble in the end zone. The 19-yard field goal made the score 41-35.
The Knights opened the fourth with an equally explosive play. Greg McCrae dashed 50 yards for the near-touchdown, getting stopped on the two yard line. Once again, Mack scrambled into the end zone himself to lock down the touchdown, switching the lead to UCF by one point, 42-41.
The Tigers couldn’t score again on their next possession and were forced to kick another field goal, which would’ve created another comfortable lead, but Patterson’s 45-yard field goal attempt was no good.
For the remainder of the game, the UCF defense held Memphis from scoring, sacking quarterback Brady White on each of the two possessions and quarterback Mack scrambled for UCF’s next two touchdowns, cementing their lead at 56-41 and even intercepting Memphis’s touchdown pass in the end zone with 33 seconds left in the game for good measure.
“[We] had a hard time stopping the run early. But again, our kids just continued to fight and believe in the guy next to them, believe in themselves, believe in what we’re doing inside of our program. (They came) out the next 30 minutes and played absolutely fantastic football. I appreciate our coaches; their ability to make adjustments at halftime; our kids having the maturity and understanding to be able to take those adjustments and go execute. And I’m just really proud of what these kids have done, not just tonight on the football field but since we’ve been here, 11 months of work building up to this moment.”-UCF Head Coach Josh Heupel on the team’s overall performance
Mellissa Thomas is Editor for Florida National News. | firstname.lastname@example.org