Replay: That Championship (Game) Look

In a postgame locker room scene that could only be described as frantic, UCF defensive lineman Josh Celiscar walked into the bowels of the Raymond James Stadium facility and rather quietly announced to no one in particular, "Alec Holler for president."
Within seconds of Knight head coach Gus Malzahn finishing his remarks to his team, a group of UCF players lifted Holler onto their shoulders and briefly carried him around the room—and all Holler could do was grin.
That's how giddy it was after UCF defeated longtime rival South Florida 46-39 in a game that started great for the Knights and then turned out to be way more complicated than Knight Nation wanted.
It took Holler's amazing sideline touchdown grab—not long after another memorable catch by Javon Baker--to bring UCF from behind to win in a game the Knights needed to earn a spot in the American Athletic Conference title game Saturday at Tulane.
All of that also cemented the 2022 legacy of quarterback Mikey Keene, the guy who delivered those two clutch throws and otherwise completed 15 of 19 for 129 and two TDs in a half of work. Malzahn tells anyone who will listen that the Knights have two real quarterbacks—and that certainly was proven out again Saturday night in Tampa.
UCF gained 547 total yards, ran for 345 and did not throw a legitimate incomplete pass until the nine-minute mark of the fourth quarter—and still the Knights found themselves trailing by a point when they took over at their own 18 with 2:49 on the clock.
What ensued over the next 2:29 is now the stuff of legends for UCF fans.
"Get the ball back to our offense," challenged UCF defensive coordinator Travis Williams prior to kickoff. "They won't be able to stop our offense.
"They feel good about their team, but they haven't played anybody like us. We want their best shot. Leave no doubt after the kickoff."
Added offensive line coach Herb Hand, "Let's out-execute these guys and then get back on the bus and go play for a championship."
"Hey, I want you guys to have fun and flat get after these guys," Malzahn finished.
The early going went almost exactly according to script.
John Rhys Plumlee ran 64 yards for a score less than three minutes into the game—the first of four straight TD drives (75, 85, 80 and 53 yards) for UCF to open the contest.
The Knights had 160 yards (127 on the ground) in the opening quarter and two and a half minutes into the second period Plumlee already had more than 100 rushing yards.
Justin Hodge emerged as the second-quarter defensive star with a fumble recovery in the end zone and an interception.
When Plumlee threw three yards to Ryan O'Keefe for a TD with 7:20 left until halftime, the visitors led 28-0.
At the intermission, UCF had allowed only seven points and had been seven for seven on third down.
"Take advantage of the opportunity in front of you," Hand told his linemen at the break.

"You've got to have stronger resolve, a stronger sense of finishing this thing."
Added Malzahn, "We're up 28-7 on the road. We're the best second-half team in college football. We know what they're doing offensively. On offense, keep running it down their throat—keep scoring."
Little did Malzahn know then how three lost fumbles after halftime would wreck that plan for UCF—and how the Knights somehow would allow 32 second-half points (22 in the third quarter)—and still win.
The Bulls committed a third turnover early in the third period—and UCF turned that into a field goal for a 31-7 advantage. Then the roof fell in.
South Florida scored TDs on three straight possessions, two on short fields (25 and 29 yards) after Knight fumbles. UCF's first three third-period possessions produced a combined 34 yards.
Finally a 75-yard march by the Knights that covered the end of the third and start of the fourth period translated to a 38-29 UCF lead.
The real drama loomed just ahead.
USF kicked a field goal at 9:32 to pull within 38-32. Then three plays after Mitch McCarthy's one punt of the night for UCF, Bulls freshman quarterback Byrum Brown ran 42 yards on third and seven and shockingly the home team led 39-38.
It got worse still for UCF. On second and 10 from the UCF 39, RJ Harvey fumbled the ball away with 5:13 left in the game. Only a critical three-and-out sequence by the Knights' defense saved the day.
So, with 169 ticks remaining, Keene--who played the full second half after Plumlee tweaked a hamstring--and the Knights took over.
On second down Keene threw to Bowser for a dozen yards. Next came a scramble to the left by Keene and a diving grab by Baker for a 41-yard gain to the USF 29.
Keene ran it for nine to the 16, seemingly setting up Colton Boomer for a potential game-winning field goal of routine distance.
Bu that's not what Malzahn was thinking.
On third and eight from the 14, Keene lofted one in Holler's direction so that either the UCF tight end would catch it or it would fly out of bounds.
Holler somehow twisted, turned and made the catch—and official replay confirmed the TD. Keene threw to Bowser for the two-point conversion.
The ensuing kickoff did not quite work as UCF planned, leaving South Florida at midfield. But a last-gasp throw from the UCF 31 fell to the ground and the Knights had their spot in the title game.
Malzahn didn't necessarily need to see a sheet of statistics after it ended. All he knew was that his team had won and would play a week later in the conference title game. He and his players had talked all fall about winning a championship—and now that opportunity will be there Saturday afternoon in New Orleans.
And they did it with a clutch drive that will long be remembered by the Knights' faithful.
"Nine and three, congratulations—we're going to the championship," yelled Malzahn in the locker room.
"It's hard to win on the road in college football. There were a lot of ups and downs in that game.
"I'm proud of you. That was championship guts down there at the end.
"When things didn't go great on the road, lost our starting quarterback, turned the ball over three times, had a lot of adversity—and you won the game.
"The tough ones are the ones that really stick out to you. You fought your guts out—most teams would have quit.
"I'm excited for you."
Malzahn will have no problem with his 24-hour rule to put any game behind his team. For the Knights there's work to be done.
With UCF headed to the Big 12 Conference next season, this might be the end of the War on I-4 for at least a while.
If so, at least for one last time, oh what a knight.