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We knew of the implications and hype leading into this game, but that intensified on Thursday afternoon as news broke that the UCF Knights is apparently on the shortlist of schools that the Big 12 are considering for expansion. The Boise State Broncos NOT being included on that list might have been bulletin board material as they jumped to a big lead early, but UCF charged on to secure the 36-31 comeback victory.
After a two-hour and 50-minute lightning delay, one might think that most of the Knights’ home-field advantage was wiped out. It hardly looked that way after UCF’s defense forced a punt on the second set of downs by Boise State within the shaking Bounce House.
When UCF came out on offense, they attacked with a relentless balance of short passes and chunk runs all the way to the Broncos’ five-yard line. The Knights seemed unstoppable — until quarterback Dillon Gabriel gave up a 100-yard pick-six. The score by Boise State’s Tyric LeBeauf was the longest interception return allowed in Knights’ history.
Boise State continued to capitalize not only on the momentum of Hank Bachmeier under center, but did so by taking over UCF’s continued tackling woes from last year to convert on long third downs that led to a 21-0 lead in the first 20 minutes of the game.
Down three scores in the mid-second quarter, UCF running back Isaiah Bowser broke off a 30-yard jaunt. Two plays later, Gabriel carried for 22 more yards. With a 23-yard connection to tight end Alec Holler in the end zone, the Knights finally scrounged up some momentum of their own. After trading punts, Boise State was held to a 32-yard Jonah Dalmas field goal inside the redzone after converting a fourth-and-one to move the chains.
Gabriel hit a 47-yard bomb to Jaylon Robinson to spark the offense. Then from the eight-yard line, he escaped a sack to find Titus Mokiao-Atimalala for a touchdown. This made it 24-14 going into the locker room.
To open the second half, UCF kept the momentum and scored yet again to close the contest to 24-21 on an 11-yarder to Brandon Johnson. In response, the Knights defense kept the energy rolling by forcing the first of four Boise State drives in the game that resulted in negative yardage.
With 56 seconds remaining in the third quarter, Gabriel found Robinson in the end zone to take the lead 28-24 for UCF.
Early in the fourth quarter, disaster struck for the Broncos as punter Joel Velazquez fumbled a snap that eventually rolled out of the back of the endzone for a safety that pushed the lead, 30-24.
The Broncos switched the momentum after LeBeauf intercepted Gabriel once again. Two plays later, Bachmeier found Shakir for his second receiving touchdown, and just like that, the Broncos were back up 31-30.
The following drive, UCF answered back. The Robinson and Bowser combination as a one-two punch of ground and through the air, helped the Knights drive down the field. Bowser sealed the drive by punching it in for one yard for his one touchdown on the night.
While carrying the load, Bowser finished the evening with 33 carries and 172 yards.
With 2:07 left in the game, it looked like Bachmeier would lead the Broncos back on top. However, UCF’s defensive front forced the Broncos QB to roll out of the pocket to throw an ill-advised pass that would lead to his only turnover. Dyllon Lester came down with the interception that allowed the Knights to hold on to the victory.
When asked how he and his team committed and recovered from mistakes, head coach Gus Malzhan emphasized on turning adversity into triumph.
“Oh yeah, we made all kinds of mistakes out there. It was the first game especially if you’re a new coach you got a new team, you know there’s going to be some things,” said Malzhan. “I told our guys that the key to this game is dealing with adversity that’s it. We got to deal with adversity like champions”.
The win not only demonstrated that UCF is a powerhouse on the field, but that even after a long lightning delay on a Thursday night, their fans stayed around to make sure their house would bounce in support of their team.
The head staff of the Knights’ Athletic department are sure hoping that the Big 12 or anyone else considering conference expansion in the Power 5 are aware of what took place as coach Malzahn recorded his first win in Black and Gold.