Knights Insider UCF-Marshall Recap


Nov. 2, 2009

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By John Denton

With UCF's players and coaches joyously celebrating and Bright House Networks Stadium throbbing with raw emotion, the Knights finally had their signature moment and the kind of defining victory that could ultimately turn this season into a special one.

When UCF wiped out a 13-point deficit with two fourth-quarter touchdowns - the final one with 23 seconds to play - the Knights improbably defeated Marshall 21-20 to capture the kind of victory that it has desperately sought all season.

"The locker room was very emotional for us,'' UCF junior safety Derrick Hallman admitted. "That's the best game that I've ever been a part of in my life. What a big comeback."

It might sound cliché, but UCF won only because it continued to fight on both sides of the ball until the final horn. The Knights got a game-saving strip of the football from standout defensive end Bruce Miller with 2:12 to play, a moment that set up UCF's winning score.

Gritty senior quarterback Brett Hodges then found Rocky Ross for a one-yard score to tie the game with 23 seconds to play. Nick Cattoi's point-after boot provided the game-winning point and set off an eruption of emotion from the 35,676 inside the stadium.

"I don't think I've heard it that loud here since the Conference (USA) championship game (in 2007)," said Miller, who had a career game with 10 tackles, 2.5 sacks, two quarterback hurries and that game-saving forced fumble. "We were down late, but as a team just never quit fighting and never quit playing."

The thrilling victory helped UCF improve to 5-3 overall and 3-2 in C-USA play. The win kept the Knights in the conference race with remaining games left against Texas and C-USA rivals Houston, Tulane and UAB. Also, the Knights need just one victory to become bowl eligible - quite an improvement for a team that slumped to 4-8 last season.

Marshall (5-4, 3-2) fell into a four-way tie for second in the C-USA East Division, trailing East Carolina (5-3, 4-1) who sits alone at the top.

UCF defeated Marshall for a fifth-consecutive time as members of C-USA, but clearly none were ever bigger than this one.

"It's a huge win for us,'' said Hodges, who passed for 342 yards and two touchdowns. "There was a lot at stake for both teams in conference play. Both teams knew this was a big win, and we got a great win."

The night looked like it would be another forgettable one, much like the close loss to the University of Miami two weeks earlier, when Hodges' fourth-down pass fell incomplete with 2:40 to play with the Knights down 20-14.

But two plays later, Miller made the play of his collegiate career. Marshall quarterback Brian Anderson had the ball locked away with two hands, but Miller was able to rip it from his grasp. Freshman defensive back Josh Robinson, who had his third interception of the season earlier in the game, recovered the loose ball to give UCF one more shot.

"I might have to rank that one No. 1 all-time for me," Miller said when asked where that play would fall among his personal hit list. "Really, it could have been anyone, but I was in position and I was able to get that ball out of there."

And UCF was able to get it in the end zone largely because of a 19-yard strike from Hodges to Kamar Aiken that got the Knights down to the one-yard line with 26 seconds to play. From there, Hodges faked the ball to Brynn Harvey and found Ross open in the end zone for the tying score.

"We executed it really well and it all worked out for us," UCF coach George O'Leary said. "Give our kids credit because they really hung in there and kept on fighting."

UCF stayed in position to win because of key performances on both sides of the ball. UCF's defense, which entered the game ranked 11th in the country against the run, held star tailback Darius Marshall to a season-low 80 yards. Marshall, a junior, entered as the nation's second-leading rusher, averaging 136 yards a game on the ground.

Said UCF standout tackle Torrell Troup: "It was a big challenge because (Marshall) is a great back, but we were ready for that challenge. ... We just kept fighting our butts off all night. The coaches tell us to play with effort and enthusiasm and we did that all night long."

Hodges' 342 passing yards were the most for UCF since Ryan Schneider's school-record 497-yard passing day in 2003 against Florida Atlantic. Time and again, Hodges stood in the pocket in the face of the rush and delivered passes as he was being hit.

Gushed O'Leary: "He's a tough kid. He got hit a couple of times and I was watching him and he'd say, `No, I'm all right.' He kept waving me off. He's a tough kid and I really think that's contagious for our football team."

UCF was behind the field-position battle most of the first half, and as it turned out, that cost the Knights dearly. UCF mustered just two first downs on its first four possessions. That allowed Marshall to either start or drive into UCF territory five times in the first half. The Herd led 17-7 at the break.

UCF's stout run defense held its own in the first half, holding Darius Marshall to just 41 yards in the first half. But the Herd picked on UCF's young secondary, either moving the ball with 164 passing yards or two costly pass interference penalties.

Trailing 7-0 early in the second quarter after a shaky start offensively, UCF grabbed some momentum and got back in the game. Hodges had completions of 15 and 14 yards and a Jonathan Davis 15-yard sprint around right end put UCF in scoring position. And UCF rewarded O'Leary's decision to go for it on fourth-and-one when Hodges hit Kamar Aiken for a four-yard score. Aiken wisely cut the corner route short, coming back to the ball for his fourth TD catch of the season and the 10th of his career.

As has been the case all season, UCF suffered a staggering moment in the red zone. Nick Cattoi's field goal try from 48 yards was tipped at the line and Marshall's Ashton Hall fielded the kick at the five-yard line. He returned it 68 yards, taking the wind out of UCF's sails.

Five plays later, Darius Marshall scooted around left end for a three-yard touchdown that put the Thundering Herd up 17-7 at the half.

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