GREENVILLE, N.C. (UCFKnights.com) – The No. 9/10 Knights didn’t have their starting quarterback. But they had a little bit of everything else in a 37-10 UCF victory over ECU Saturday night at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.
UCF got touchdowns on a trick play, a run by quarterback Darriel Mack and a defensive score. The Knights’ opportunistic defense, bent but didn’t break and forced five turnovers.
The biggest play of the game may have come with 10 minutes remaining in the contest. UCF was clinging to a 23-10 lead. ECU was inside the Knights’ 5-yard line. On 3rd-and-goal from the UCF 2-yard line, Kyle Gibson blitzed and knocked the ball out of quarterback Holton Ahlers’ hand. Nate Evans scooped it up and went back 94 yards for a score to put the game out of reach.
“I saw my teammate Kyle Gibson get to the quarterback and the ball came out,” Evans said. “We practice turnover drills and scoop-and-score all the time. I just kept running, even though I’m slow. I just wanted to get to the end zone.”
Mack started the game for McKenzie Milton, who missed his first start since the last time UCF played at ECU on Oct. 1, 2016. Mack finished with a career-best 120 rushing yards, including a touchdown. He was 12-of-20 passing for 69 yards.
“Darriel did a fantastic job,” UCF head coach Josh Heupel said. “Managed the game well. Took care of the football the entire night. (He) didn’t really have huge passing numbers as far as yards but was really efficient. I thought he was a great decision-maker. Ran really physical, great pad level, good decision making. I’m really proud of the way he played.”
Mack’s most important pass didn’t go in the stat sheet. With UCF leading 6-3 in the second quarter, the Knights snuck true freshman quarterback Quadry Jones into the game as a wide receiver. Mack’s backward pass to Jones allowed him to throw the ball. He found a streaking Adrian Killins for the Knights’ first touchdown of the game.
In addition to Mack’s 120-yard rushing game, running back Greg McCrae finished with 99 yards on five carries, including a 74-yard TD jaunt late in the game to put it away. Defensively, the Knights were paced by Gibson, who tallied 12 tackles and had the huge fourth-quarter forced fumble. Evans tallied 10 tackles and a sack to go with his fumble return for a score.
The following is a quarter-by-quarter look at Saturday night’s game vs. the Pirates:
It took the Knights a few series to get going on offense, but the defense was equal to the task. East Carolina hit one big play – a 41-yard pass down the sideline – but it only led to a field goal. The Pirates held a 3-0 edge after the first 15 minutes.
UCF got on the scoreboard early in the second period. Mack hit tight end Michael Colubiale to convert a 4th-and-5, pushing deep into ECU territory. Eventually, the Matthew Wright booted a 40-yard field goal to tie it at 3-3. After a Nevelle Clarke interception, the Knights once again moved into field goal range. Wright converted from 41 yards this time and the Knights led 6-3 with 9:44 left in the first half.
At that point, Coach Heupel went into his bag of tricks. On 1st-and-10 from the ECU 42, Mack threw a backward pass to freshman quarterback Quadry Jones, who was lined up as a wide receiver. Jones then finished the double-pass play by finding a wide open Adrian Killins for a touchdown to put the Knights up 13-3.
Mack added another touchdown late in the first half, capping a 10-play 52-yard drive with a 7-yard touchdown run. UCF led 20-3 at the intermission.
ECU cut the Knights’ lead to 20-10 on a 29-yard touchdown pass from Holton Ahlers to Trevon Brown with just over six minutes remaining in the third quarter. Wright answered with a season-long 46-yard field goal to make it 23-13.
Gibson’s forced fumble and Evans’ 95-yard return for a touchdown gave the Knights some breathing room at 30-10. Midway through the fourth quarter, the Knights really put it away when McCrae burst through the line and raced 74 yards to paydirt to account for the final score.