Replay: Different Plot, Same Result

UCF fans Saturday night might have thought they'd stopped at the wrong venue.
No touchdowns in the first half—by either team? Since when does that happen at the Bounce House?
Three total TDs in the entire game? That's often less than a quarter's worth for a UCF contest.
Granted, UCF's 20-16 triumph over East Carolina Saturday night was unlike any recent Knight football game.
UCF hadn't been held without a first-half TD in six years. The Knights hadn't won a game while scoring 20 or fewer points since 2014 (16-0 at South Florida).
Defensive struggles for UCF are as rare as a humidity-free summer day in Orlando.
Yet no one in the home-team locker room was complaining.
Certainly not linebacker Tatum Bethune, whose career-high 17 tackles (after sitting out the Navy game a week ago) paid huge dividends.
Not shifty running back Johnny Richardson, who racked up 60 of his 104 rushing yards after intermission.
Not Auburn transfer running back Mark-Antony Richards, who came into the game with only four rushing attempts in 2021 and left the stadium after he carried on the final four UCF plays of the night (for 27 rushing yards), including the game-winning one-yard TD run with 23 seconds to go.
And certainly not freshman quarterback Mikey Keene, who in his second career start recorded his first victory by leading his team 64 yards in 11 plays in a little over three minutes for the game-winning points.
UCF fans used to offensive shootouts at the Bounce House instead saw a grind-it-out affair that wasn't always pretty but ended the way most Knight home games do.
Gus Malzahn and his team will take it.
"This isn't about our capability or your want-to," UCF offensive line coach Herb Hand told his charges before the game.
"Are you willing to do what it takes to be 1-0 coming back into this locker room in three hours? The will is your choice—to do it time after time after time after time.
"What are you willing to do in your gut?"
Malzahn told the full squad, "There's no rah-rah speech here.
"It's about manning up and getting it done.
"This is a good football team—let's go out there and get after these guys early."
The white board in the locker room listed a series of defensive "musts." The first one said, "Physically stop the run."
The Knights set about accomplishing that, especially in defending freshman running back Keaton Mitchell—who ran for 222 yards just a week ago against Tulane.
This time, UCF limited him to 65 yards on 17 attempts—with a long gain of 17 yards after he had been used to 60-yard jaunts regularly in the early going of 2021.
Veteran East Carolina quarterback Holton Ahlers connected on five of his first six throws for 57 yards—but Mitchell fumbled the ball away after reaching the Knights' 10.
The teams traded field goals on 60-plus-yard drives. There were seven combined punts—and over one stretch four straight combined three-and-outs. At intermission, the Pirates had been limited to 32 net rushing yards.
"We said we're gonna get 60 minutes," UCF defensive coordinator Travis Williams said at halftime.
"We did not come here for 30, we came for 60. Finish the mission we came for."
Added Malzahn, "We've moved the ball pretty good—we've just had penalties (six for 65 yards in the first two periods). We need to play clean.
"Defense is playing lights out. Offense, let's go. Keep fighting, keep believing, let's win the game."
Keene threw an interception on the third play of the third period--with East Carolina turning that into a field goal after reaching the UCF five (as the Knights held the visitors to no gain on second- and third-down runs).
Then Richardson set the tone for the second half with a 38-yard run on first down. That 75-yard drive ended with a four-yard Richardson scoring run. ECU matched that with a 27-yard TD pass from Ahlers.
In the final period, the Pirates drove to the UCF 10 before a needed Keenan Hester third-down sack limited the Pirates to another field goal and a 16-10 advantage for the visitors.
Then it all fell into place for the Knights:
--Richardson took a pass down the sideline for 49 yards—and Daniel Obarski kicked a career-long 40-yard field goal to make it 16-13.
--The UCF defense came up with a three-and-out—stopping Mitchell on gains of zero and one yard on the first two downs.
--Taking over at his own 36 with 3:39 to go, Keene took the Knights to the end zone. A fourth-and-eight completion from the East Carolina 43 to Richards for 12 yards did the trick.
--Richards did the rest himself, running 19 yards to the eight, adding seven more, then going the final yard with less than a half-minute to go.
"How 'bout that defense?" yelled Malzahn in the middle of the loud postgame scene. "And with people asking, 'Can we stop the run?'
"Offense, with the game on the line, you delivered!
"We had probably as tough a two losses back to back as maybe any team in a long time in college football.
"But let me just tell you. You all did not flinch.
"Refuse to lose—that's what you guys did tonight."
The method maybe rang a bit unfamiliar.
But the end result on the scoreboard was ever so comforting.