As in, one last regular-season game in 2019 for the UCF Knights, when they welcome — term used loosely in this intrastate rivalry — the South Florida Bulls to town for their annual Black Friday game, in primetime at 8 p.m. on ESPN.
It’s also the last home game for a group of seniors looking for their 40th win, a school record for a four-year stretch. That includes a group like running back Adrian Killins, Jr., linebacker Nate Evans, center Jordan Johnson and cornerback Nevelle Clark.
“I know my mom’s gonna cry,” Killins said of the atmosphere he expects Friday. “It’s going to be a night to remember. I can’t believe I made it this far. I came to UCF as a boy and I’m leaving as a man.”
(While we’re listing “lasts”, it’s also the final game of the year for the USF Bulls, who at 4-7 will not be in a bowl game for the first time since 2014.)
While UCF is out of the running for a division or American Athletic Conference title, there is still much to play for. The Knights currently ride a 20-game home winning streak dating to the start of the 2017 season, and a win Friday plus a bowl game win gives UCF a third straight 10-win season.
The Knights (8-3) found some momentum last week in a 34-31 road win at Tulane that wasn’t as close as that score says. Quarterback Dillon Gabriel played a clean game, throwing for 347 yards and a touchdown and rushing for 58 more, a new high in a short career. Fellow QB Darriel Mack, working in goal line situations, also threw and ran for a score. The offense did not turn the ball over.
“He was sound and got the ball out of his hands quickly, so a lot of positives,” Coach Jeff Heupel said.
It’s been a good week of practice, and it’ll take a good four quarters to win Friday, despite USF’s record, Heupel said.
“It’s important. It’s a trophy game. It matters, but we try to be consistent in how we approach things. Every team’s dangerous so you have to prepare in a good way. Really good players and coaches so you have to have your competitive edge. I expect a packed house and a loud environment.”
The Bulls will be without starting running backs Jordan Cronkite and Trevon Sands due to injury, so that means bottling up true freshman Kelley Joiner from Clermont, who ran for 115 yards on just 13 carries in the Bulls’ loss to Memphis last week.
BOWLING … BUT WHERE? Projections on which bowl and the opponent are still all over the place. The Cure Bowl in town, the Gasparilla Bowl (Tampa), Frisco (Texas) Bowl and Military (Annapolis, Md.) Bowl seem to be the leading candidates. The list of potential opponents is longer than this story.