John Denton's Knights Insider

Nov. 16, 2009

By John Denton

Undoubtedly, this past weekend will go down as one of the best stretches of days in UCF athletics history.

From the football team's 37-32 defeat of 12-ranked Houston to the men's basketball team's rout of UMass to the women's soccer team winning a game in the NCAA tournament, it was a weekend that won't soon be forgotten at UCF.

It was just the kind of weekend that UCF must have envisioned several years back when the school built Bright House Networks Stadium for the football team and UCF Arena for the basketball teams. The on-campus facilities are as good as any in the state, and last weekend at least the performances matched.

"When you build a new 45,000-seat football stadium and a 10,000-seat arena - and we built them at the same time - your hopes are to have games like this and to win them," said UCF athletics director Keith Tribble, who sat courtside for the basketball win and happily greeted players coming off the field following the football win. "We want to have a lot more great times like this in the future, and I think we will have them."

UCF celebrated the homecoming weekend with some of its greatest accomplishments in recent memory. The football team's defeat of No. 12 Houston was the first victory against a ranked FBS foe in the history of the program, a span of 23 games. The victory also made the Knights (6-4 overall, 4-2 in Conference USA play) bowl eligible and kept them in the hunt for the East Division crown in C-USA.

UCF's coaching staff talked to the team for days about being able to take a punch and bounce back from them. They even cued up footage from legendary boxer Muhammad Ali taking one hit after another only to respond with comebacks.

UCF did just that, bouncing back from 10-0 and 17-3 deficits for arguably the biggest win in school history. And the beauty of it was that it was a total team effort with the Knights getting stellar production from quarterback Brett Hodges (21 of 25 passing for 241 yards and a touchdown), running back Brynn Harvey (139 rushing yards, three TDs) and an opportunistic defense (three forced turnovers, two sacks).

And after the Knights toppled a ranked team for the first time in 10 tries under George O'Leary, the veteran coach stressed that this win could have a big snowball effect for the program for years to come.

"It's outstanding and sometimes you use something like this to catapult your program and catapult your school," O'Leary said. "It's great. It's a great win for the program and there was no gimme in that one. We worked for it and all three phases of our team played well."

Tribble agreed that the victory could have a big impact on the enthusiasm of the fanbase and in recruiting for the football program.

"That kind of win is what people want to see," Tribble said. "People want to know how your program compares to some of the best teams in the country. Beating a Houston team ranked No. 12 in the country and getting that national television exposure, that was big for us. It's what people want to see and that's what is going to help our program for a long time to come."

UCF's men's basketball team pulled off what might have been the shocker of the weekend by beating tradition-rich UMass 84-67. UCF is statistically one of the nation's youngest teams with 13 underclassmen and eight freshmen.

But UCF's youth was hardly overwhelmed against the Minutemen as the Knights stormed out to a big lead, fought through a seven-point deficit late in the first half and outscored UMass 46-32 after the break.

UCF guard Isaac Sosa, who made nine of 11 shots and six 3-pointers for a career-high 26 points, was named Conference USA's Player of the Week on Monday for his effort. The sophomore said that UCF won't use its youth an excuse this season, and he feels the Knights can surprise plenty of teams this season.

"Hopefully we won't have to say that we're young for the rest of the season,'' Sosa said. ``We should feel like we're veterans and pick things up quickly in practice. Then, if we just put that in games, we should be just fine.''

UCF's big win came much to the delight of a crowd of 8,727, the second-largest crowd ever at UCF Arena. Longtime UCF coach Kirk Speraw has talked for weeks about how fan interest in his program is growing and he hopes that last Friday's inspiring victory will only spark the enthusiasm in the team. The Knights (1-0) host Howard Tuesday night at 7 p.m.

"That crowd was awesome," Speraw said. "People don't understand how much that (crowd noise) affects our kids. The crowd was a huge factor in our effort on the defensive end. We need them every game. It was awesome (on Friday), but we need them Tuesday and right on through the end of the season because it affects our guys in such a positive way. It was an awesome crowd and a pretty good night overall."

UCF's women's soccer team, the regular-season champions of Conference USA, won a NCAA tournament game for a third consecutive season, but was unable to reach the Sweet 16 after losing 1-0 to Wisconsin in Madison, Wis. The Knights finished the season 17-5-1 and earned big wins against Duke, Florida State and USF during the regular season and Wisconsin-Milwaukee in the NCAA tournament.

John Denton's Knights Insider appears on UCFathletics.com several times a week. E-mail John at jdenton@athletics.ucf.com.