Replay: Knights Perfecting Late Theatrics

UCF football coach Gus Malzahn was not a drama major in college.
Yet his first Knight football team already has perfected the art of last-minute theatrics, including a 34-30 loss Saturday at Navy as well as previous outings versus Boise State and Louisville.
Malzahn woke up this morning thinking how easily his UCF squad could be 4-0 with only a few more late yards or plays made in the Knights' last two outings—yet staring at the reality that the record line actually reads 2-2.
He's now wondering what the next act will bring.
Malzahn and his staff knew the UCF team that took the field in Annapolis Saturday was not the same as the one that competed the first three weeks of the season. The loss at Louisville exacted a physical toll, in particular the broken collarbone suffered by star quarterback Dillon Gabriel—and multiple other starters couldn't go versus the winless Mids.
Still, after an open weekend and despite the challenge of facing the Navy triple option, the Knights had every reason to believe they would have enough to prevail.
"You've got to physically get after these guys. It's assignment football. I'm excited to watch you guys play. You're gonna play like a million bucks," Malzahn told his team in the locker room.
"We're not gonna panic," said defensive coordinator Travis Williams. "Read the keys and you'll be fine. It's gonna be faster, so let's play our best brand of football today."
Malzahn could not have scripted the opening act any better. Cam Goode forced a Navy fumble on the third play from scrimmage—and on the very next play freshman quarterback Mikey Keene got his first start off to rave early reviews with a 15-yard scoring pass to Brandon Johnson.
But, if UCF had hoped to control the tempo, as Malzahn had preached, the Mids on their next drive showed how difficult that would be to achieve. Navy ran the ball 16 straight times, converted twice on fourth down, held the ball for 8:10 and tied the game at 7-7.
Keene completed a 34-yard throw to Johnny Richardson on the ensuing drive, and Amari Johnson made it 13-7 on a 16-yard jet sweep. Yet Navy's 10:35 time of possession in the opening period set the tone for an afternoon when the Knight defense had a tough time getting off the field.
UCF's next drive again produced a TD—this time Keene hitting Brandon Johnson again for 23 yards and a 20-10 count. At that point Keene had completed all three of his throws for 72 yards and two TDs.
The final minute and a half of the opening half qualified as bizarre. Navy blocked an Andrew Osteen punt into the end zone and recovered to cut the margin to three. The Knights responded by driving to the Navy 11 after a third-down fake field goal and run by Daniel Obarski ended up gaining 13 yards with one second left. Obarski's first field goal of the season made it 23-17.
"Here's the reality of the picture right now. We're up six and we get the ball," said Malzahn at intermission. "Defense, now we know. Let's put these guys away."
A second fumble recovery deep in Navy territory set the visitors up on the Mids' 10. Joey Gatewood ran it in for a 30-17 advantage after three periods. It wouldn't be enough.
Navy drove 69 yards for a field goal, thanks to a Mid false start after reaching the one. A short UCF punt left Navy in Knight territory and seven plays later the home team had pulled to 30-27.
On third down and six, Keene threw over the middle to Brandon Johnson who gained 20 but fumbled the ball away. Navy started at its own 47 with 8:28 left and ran 11 plays—all on the ground—to take the lead with just over three minutes to go.
The Knights had one last chance. Keene completed his first five throws on the possession for 46 yards.. The last of those gave UCF a first down at the Navy 12 with plenty of time remaining. A pair of incompletions was followed by a five-yard rushing loss by Amari Johnson. On fourth and 15 with 34 seconds to go, the Mids clinched it with an end-zone interception.
"Here's the bottom line. That team beat us," said Malzahn to his team in a somber locker room.
"We fought, but we didn't get it done. I knew it was gonna be tough. We had trouble getting off the field (on defense). We're capable of being a really good team. Mikey, in your first start on the road, you fought your guts out (16 of 26 for 178 yards, two TDs).
"We gotta man up. It is what it is. We're not gonna have our heads down and pout. We're gonna figure out a way to correct this. This is the way life is sometimes."
Bryson Armstrong had 22 tackles (one off the UCF record) to pace the defense. Eriq Gilyard had 11 and Divaad Wilson 10. Goode forced both Navy fumbles that the Knights recovered.
The Mids ran the ball 76 times for 348 net yards.
UCF now has had three of its four games come down to the wire, falling in the two most recent despite scoring at least 30 points in both.
Malzahn, his staff and team will work on meriting a thumbs-up review when they next take the stage.