UCF made whole in 2nd half
Knights outscore Tigers 35-3 after break to defend league crown
Through its 24-game winning streak, UCF has answered countless challenges.
Through thick and thin, through double-digit deficits and debilitating injuries, the Knights have taken everyone’s best shot and somehow, someway survived.
Even when faced with its biggest challenge to date — down 17 points to Memphis in the American Athletic Conference championship game Saturday and without their star quarterback McKenzie Milton — the Knights somehow, someway mounted an epic comeback and beat the Tigers 56-41.
“This group handles adversity better than any group that I've been around,” UCF coach Josh Heupel told the ABC broadcast team after the win. “... This is a championship team.”
Backup quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. scored six total touch- downs in just his second career start as No. 8 UCF outscored Memphis 35-3 in the second half to remain undefeated and capture its second consecutive conference championship.
Things didn’t look so good for the Knights at the start.
Memphis recovered a Mack fumble at UCF’s 27-yard line and two plays later, running back Darrell Henderson rumbled in from 12 yards out for another touchdown to push the lead to 14-0.
UCF rebounded on its next possession, with the Knights driving 65 yards on a drive capped by a 14-yard touchdown run by Greg McCrae that sliced into the lead to 14-7.
But those good feelings didn’t last long as Tigers running back Patrick Taylor outraced the UCF defense, scoring on a 72-yard touchdown run that pushed Memphis up 21-7 midway through the first quarter.
Mack moved the UCF offense downfield on the next possession, but he was pressured on a third-and-five. That resulted in Mack losing the football for the second time.
Memphis drove down to the UCF 19-yard line before settling for a 36-yard field goal by Riley Patterson that extended the Tigers’ lead to 24-7.
UCF put together its best offensive possession of the game, driving 72 yards before Mack took it upon himself to rush 6 yards for the score.
As he dove into the end zone, however, Mack was hit and the ball flipped out. But UCF tight end Michael Colubiale eventually recovered the football for the touchdown.
Henderson once again delivered what appeared to be a crushing blow, this time scoring an 81-yard touchdown run on the second play of the Tigers’ next possession.
The score extended Memphis’ lead to 31-14 with 11:24 left in the first half.
Henderson racked up 166 yards and three touchdowns on just six carries to that point.
UCF cut the lead to 31-21 with just under three minutes left in the first half after the Knights drove 90 yards before Mack lofted a pass to redshirt sophomore Jake Hescock in the back of the end zone for a 4-yard score.
Mack’s first career touchdown cut the lead to 10.
After the score, Heupel paced the sidelines waving his hands into the air trying
to get the crowd amped up for the defense.
But after the Knights forced a three-and-out, Otis Anderson fumbled the punt and Memphis took over at the UCF 31-yard line. Five plays later, Henderson took the snap out of the Wildcat formation and lofted a 4-yard pass to Sean Dykes that extended the lead to 38-21.
UCF took the secondhalf kickoff and drove to its own 46-yard line before Mack connected with Anderson down the left sideline for a 54-yard touchdown that cut the lead to 38-28 with 12 minutes left in the third quarter.
After UCF forced a threeand-out, Anderson gave the Knights a charge, returning a punt 43 yards into Memphis territory. Mack then did the rest, diving into the end zone for 4-yard touchdown that reduced Memphis’ advantage to 38-35.
Memphis added a field goal to extend the lead to 41-35, but Mack once again stepped up. After leading UCF on a long drive, he found the end zone for a 2-yard touchdown run that gave the Knights their first lead of the game, 42-41.
UCF quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. (8) screams in celebration after leading the Knights to a touchdown against Memphis on Saturday.
UCF quarterback Darriel Mack Jr. manages to sidestep a diving Memphis defender and pick up yardage during Saturday’s AAC championship game in Orlando.