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The UCF Knights may have had one of their most health-challenged seasons on the field in 2021. And yes, that’s even with the Covid-19 pandemic happening last year.
But as the Knights charge across the finish line of this year’s campaign on Black Friday for what may be the last War on I-4 in the Bounce House against the South Florida Bulls, there is a bittersweetness and appreciation within the program for every game as an opportunity for the players to play.
“First of all, we’re thankful – there’s no doubt. It’s great to be in front of a crowd like ours. It’s and a lot of fun, and it’s been even fun for me,” said head coach Gus Malzahn. “Our guys; they’ve hung in there all year. They’ve come out ready to play. They’ve played hard every game. This is the last game – this is it. This is the last rodeo before the bowl game and obviously, it’s a big one for us.”
Malzhan acknowledged that it’s “gonna be tough” for quarterback Dillon Gabriel to see action against the Bulls, but he also mentioned how true freshman Mikey Keene has steadily gotten more comfortable as a starter. Offensive tackle and team captain Sam Jackson echoed this as well:
“You just see a growth. When a young guy gets in there you can never tell. They kinda do everything by the book. What they are told to do is what they are going to try to do,“ said Jackson. “Sometimes you just got to make plays when you have to make plays and I think I have definitely seen that growth from his first start to last game [where he was] making plays with his legs; that gives us better tools when it comes to dealing with defenses.”
When asked about the prospect of this possibly being the last episode of the War on I-4 to take place in the Bounce House at 3:30 this Friday, Jackson said that while he would prefer to see the rivalry continue, but fellow AAC-turned-Big 12 team Cincinnati could be a team that is capable of filling that game if the War on I-4 were to be left behind.