ORLANDO, FL — As the clock struck 3:30 pm EST at the Bounce House, the UCF Knights (8-4) hosted what could be the final edition of the “War on I-4” against the USF Bulls (2-10). The Knights repelled the Bulls’ stampede, 17-13.
It was a sloppy game of football, which was expected from a rivalry game where both teams had true freshmen at quarterback. Both teams exchanged field position and missed field goals throughout the evening.
While Mikey Keene started at quarterback for the Knights, backup quarterback Parker Navarro took the snap that would break the plane first for a three-yard running touchdown. The USF offense answered back with a touchdown on a four-yard run by quarterback Timmy McClain.
As the battle between the young quarterbacks continued, Keene bounced his offense back with a seven-yard touchdown pass on third down in the closing seconds of the first half. This gave the Knights a 14-7 lead at halftime.
Keene struggled in the second half with only 15 yards passing totaled, finishing the game going 14-of-26 for 115 yards. The Bulls Timmy McCain by comparison, finished 18-of-29 for 222 yards.
The only scoring for the rest of the game came from field goals. USF’s Spencer Schrader was 2-of-3 hitting from 41 and 36 yards out. UCF’s Daniel Obarski booted a 32-yarder, his only for the game, while he missed his other two.
The Knights four-point deficit paid big dividends late in the game. It forced the Bulls to a limited playbook and the defense took advantage finishing the game with six sacks.
Offensively, running backs were huge for both teams. Jaren Mangham turned in 94 yards on 21 carries for USF. For UCF, Johnny Richardson and Mark-Anthony Richards combined for 175 yards on 22 carries.
With all that, UCF has overcome a lot this year. Gus Malzahn spoke of building a foundation for the future and how strong it already is in his first year.
“There’s no doubt. That bunch is a bunch of winners in there,” said Malzahn. “They’re not gonna quit, they’re gonna fight, they’re gonna claw and our coaches are going to do the same thing. There was no divide. College football is a real interesting deal when things start going south, especially nowadays. That’s probably what I’m most proud of. They never flinched and we never had one bit of drama and have to ‘Dr. Phil’ ’em or tell them it’s going to be OK. No — they just stepped up.”
With UCF becoming the first bowl-eligible team in the state of Florida three weeks ago after beating Tulane, the hype has begun for two potential post-season berths. One, involving a Power 5 squad within the state of Florida team as an opponent in the Gasparilla Bowl or a rematch of coach Malzahn against his old team, the Auburn Tigers, in the Birmingham Bowl.