Replay: Knights Place Fitting Bow on 2019 Regular Season

Saturday at Spectrum Stadium became a perfect night (Knight?) for checking lots of UCF football boxes—and surely there were plenty of those:
--Finish the regular season convincingly and grab a handful of feel-good momentum heading into whatever bowl assignment is thrown the Knights' way next Sunday. UCF accomplished that in spades in its never-in-doubt 34-7 finale versus down-the-road rival South Florida.
--Vanquish the most noted rival on the schedule. The Knights permitted no drama in any conversation about where the War on I-4 trophy would reside for the next year. UCF players and coaches reveled in taking group photos with it in the home team locker room.
--Win the turnover battle. This is a weekly Josh Heupel mantra—and a 3-0 Knight win in that category proved how it can turn a football game into a routine evening (only the four turnovers caused versus Connecticut comprised a higher total in 2019).
--Start fast. A Gabriel Davis touchdown catch 2:33 into the contest took care of that. So did a 24-0 halftime lead.
--Send the seniors out in style. The Knights did that with their 21st consecutive home win, following a more-than-fitting and emotional pregame tribute to 17 seniors and their families, including injured quarterback McKenzie Milton whose comeback is ongoing. Think about it—these seniors came to UCF on the heels of an 0-12 football season and leave having gone three years without losing a home game (now tied for the longest streak in the country).
Heupel is having a hard time grasping how anyone can be too terribly concerned about 21 wins (so far) in his first two seasons as head coach. Yet it shows just how quickly and crazily Knight fans have become a bit spoiled by success that even a 9-3 regular season somehow seems lacking to them. Maybe UCF backers with very short-term memories just assume the American Athletic Conference title game is assigned to Spectrum Stadium each December.
So be it. A postseason victory will give UCF three consecutive 10-win seasons. Only the Alabamas and the Clemsons and the Oklahomas of the college football world do that sort of thing.
Heupel and his Knights will take it if they can get it.
Sometimes pregame senior introductions can become so complicated that players can't see who to block through their tears.
That wasn't the case on a perfect weather night in Orlando after a ceremony that was less nostalgia and more a tribute to the most productive class in UCF football history (40 wins over four years—and counting).
"Play for your brothers. Out-compete them," challenged Heupel just before kickoff. Maybe never in 2019 did that sound more important as veterans like Adrian Killins Jr. and Jordan Johnson and Nate Evans charged onto their home field for the final time.
Heupel and his staff had to appreciate the workmanlike nature of the opening drive. Four times the Knights converted on third down (a Dillon Gabriel pass to Gabe Davis, a Gabriel keeper, a Killins rush and finally a 19-yard TD connection to the ever-dependable Davis who tap-danced a foot down inside the end line).
USF endured a false start before it ran a single play--and a second one of those on fourth and one when the Bulls had at least thought about going for it. That set the tone for an evening of futility in that category (four false start errors overall and another delay of game penalty for the visitors).
The home team recovered a fumble (by Evans), missed a field goal (the first by Dylan Barnas after hitting nine in a row) and misfired on a fourth-down attempt of its own. Yet none of that fazed the Knights.
After an Antwon Collier interception (his third of 2019 to tie for the team lead) on the fifth play of the second quarter (on fourth and six for USF), the Knights drove 70 yards. Killins zipped 35 yards down the USF sideline past a handful of would-be tacklers to make it 14-0.
At that point UCF boasted a 127-9 edge in rushing yards.
On the next Knight possession, Gabriel completed five more passes and ran for 12 yards when it was third and 10 to go. Davis worked himself wide open down the USF sideline for a 32-yard connection and it was 21-0. By that stage the home team led 286-82 in total yards and had run 22 more plays than the team from Tampa.
Barnas added an exclamation mark to that opening half with a career-long 50-yard field goal with three seconds remaining. That 24-0 halftime margin appeared to be more than enough. It marked the third time in 2019 UCF had blanked an opponent in the first half (also FAMU and FAU).
The Knights had pitched a shutout for 30 minutes—yet defensive coordinator Randy Shannon made sure the UCF stop troops understood what remained: "We've got to stay with our standard on defense. Stay in our zone and keep making plays."
Call the second half anticlimactic if you must. UCF fans rather liked it that way.
South Florida managed its only point of the night on a 75-yard drive in the third period—39 of those on a season-long Johnny Ford run.
The Knights responded in turn with an 82-yarder of their own. Darriel Mack Jr. found Tre Nixon for 37 yards to the USF four and then ran it in himself from the two.
Otis Anderson had a long punt return score negated by an illegal block, Barnas added another field goal and the Bulls ran off more than nine minutes of the final period on a 19-play drive that ended on a fourth-down Eriq Gilyard interception.
The UCF veterans did what they do. Killins ran for 115 yards, Davis caught eight balls for 106 and set the UCF single-season mark for receiving yards. Gabriel threw for 270 yards and the pair of scores to Davis and did not turn it over (he finished his first season of home games with 17 TD passes and zero interceptions at Spectrum Stadium).
The home team had 497 offensive yards after three periods—and the UCF defense all night allowed only 250 net yards, its lowest total in 2019.
Evans had eight tackles. Gilyard, Collier and Eric Mitchell added seven apiece--and the team that leads the nation in tackles for loss added nine more (exactly the UCF average) to the stat line.
The postgame locker room was awash with spouses and kids and family and assorted other visitors, all enjoying the spoils of a rivalry game victory.
The clock ticked past midnight in Orlando and most all was right in the Knights' regular-season football finale.
It was hard not to smile.