ORLANDO (UCFKnights.com) – Things did not start well for No. 11 UCF Saturday night at Spectrum Stadium.
On perhaps the biggest single day in the history of the UCF Football program, the Knights’ first offensive play was a strip sack of McKenzie Milton for a Cincinnati touchdown. Trailing 6-0, the Knights’ next possession ended in a punt that was downed at their own 35-yard line. But the defense stood tall and forced a field goal attempt that was missed.
From there, it was all Knights. UCF scored 35 unanswered points en route to a 38-13 victory over the No. 19 Bearcats.
The victory capped an incredible day on campus in the City Beautiful. Picture perfect weather, ESPN College GameDay in the morning, the ABC Saturday Night primetime game and an American Athletic Conference East Division trophy presented in the locker room all made for some massive memorable moments.
“This whole weekend is just a great opportunity,” Heupel said. “I think it's the first time (some) of the people have gotten a chance to really see what our university is all about -- the size of it, the energy and the passion from our fan base, what a game-day atmosphere looks like inside of our stadium. This is big-time football. I think everybody saw that tonight. Hopefully people enjoyed what they saw.”
Following the aforementioned missed field goal, Milton got into a rhythm and the high-powered Knights’ offense started heating up. Milton completed passes of 15, 28 and 27 yards to get to the Bearcats’ 6-yard line. From there, the junior signal-caller did it with his legs. A pair of 3-yard carries resulted in a touchdown and Matthew Wright’s extra point gave UCF a lead it would never relinquish.
“Offensively, we didn't start real fast tonight,” Heupel said. “We busted protection on the first play, don't get it started on the second drive. But we get our feet underneath us late in the first and then throughout the second quarter and are able to go score a bunch of points.”
The Knights extended their advantage to on the first play of the second quarter. A beautiful diving catch by running back Adrian Killins Jr. for a 17-yard touchdown from Milton made it 14-6. The Knights’ lead ballooned to 21-6 with 5 minutes left in the first half. A 10-play, 81-yard drive was capped by a 36-yard scoring strike from Milton to Tre Nixon.
Cincinnati drove deep into UCF territory, trying to cut into the lead before halftime. But on 3rd-and-17 from the Knights’ 19-yard line, defensive end Titus Davis came up with one of his three sacks in the contest, forcing a fumble that was recovered by Brendon Hayes to end the scoring threat.
“There's times we played lights out defensively,” Heupel said. “We haven't always started super fast in the first half of football games (defensively). Those guys came out tonight, they were dialed into their assignments … and played great team defense.”
While the defense continued to stifle Cincinnati, Killins showed his blazing speed to essentially put the game on ice. On 3rd-and-10 from the Bearcats’ 42-yard line, Milton was forced to scramble. He was able to flip the ball forward to Killins at the last second. The junior running back made one Cincy defender miss and turned on the jets to make it 28-6.
Greg McCrae tacked on a 9-yard touchdown run early in the fourth quarter to make it 35-6. Cincinnati scored its only offensive touchdown of the game midway through the fourth, while a late Wright field goal accounted for the final score.
Milton finished 13-of-25 for 268 yards and three passing touchdowns. He added a fourth touchdown on the ground. Killins recorded four receptions for 82 yards and two touchdowns. Defensively, Richie Grant led the Knights with 12 tackles, while Pat Jasinski was also in double figures with 10. Davis recorded five tackles, four were behind the line of scrimmage and three were sacks.
While the Knights already know they will host the American Athletic Conference Championship game on Dec. 1, they have another important trophy to play for next week. UCF will travel to Tampa on Black Friday, looking to close out the regular season undefeated in the War On I-4. Kickoff for the game at South Florida is set for 4:15 p.m. Friday.