By: J. Daniel Pearson
Marc-Anthony Richards scored on a 1-yard run with 23 seconds remaining to give the UCF Knights a dramatic 20-16 come-from-behind win over East Carolina on Saturday evening. The key play in the game-winning drive occurred when quarterback Mikey Keene converted a fourth and eight from the ECU 42 with a 12-yard pass to Richards. From there, Richards would carry four consecutive times – picking up the last 31 yards of the drive.
“After two gut-wrenching back-to-back losses this was a great win for us tonight against a really good team,” UCF Head Coach Gus Malzahn said. “I am very proud of this team and how they kept their composure tonight.”
Although the final drive was clutch, the decision by Malzahn to have Daniel Obroski kick a 40-yard field goal with the Knights trailing by six with 5:06 remaining rather than going it on a fourth and six from the 23 was equally key to the win. Johnny Richardson’s 49-yard catch and run on a screen pass earlier in the drive put the Knights in position for a go ahead touchdown but three plays netted just three yards. “Richardson’s play gave us some life and I simply wanted to make sure we got some points on that drive. I thought our defense was playing really well and felt there was plenty of time to get the ball back,” Malzahn said. “I just went with my instincts and sometimes you have to do that.”
It was not an easy win for the Knights, as ECU was either tied or led for most of the game. After UCF received the second-half kickoff, Davonte Brown intercepted Keene to set up a short 23-yard field by Daffner as ECU took the lead, 6-3.
But the UCF offense would finally get on track on the Knight’s next possession. Richardson, who finished the game with 104 yards rushing on 16 carries, would cap a seven-play, 75-yard drive with a four-yard scoring run to make it 10-6. Richardson was a workhorse on the drive, carrying five times for 54 yards.
Still the Pirates answered immediately, retaking the lead when Audie Otomosho out-jumped UCF safety Divaad Wilson near the goal line on a 50-50 ball, making the catch and walking in the end zone as the Pirates regained the lead 13-10. Daffner would extend the lead to 16-10 with 34-yard field goal with 7:01 to go in the game before UCF’s late game heroics.
The first half was basically played to a standstill.
ECU would outgain the Knights by a two-to-one margin in the first quarter, but Knights would take a 3-0 lead when Obroski booted a 35-yard field on the first play of the second quarter. Ahlers would answer the score on the Pirates’ next possession by driving the length of the field but the Knight defense stiffened forcing an Owen Daffer field goal from 27 yards to tie the game at 3-3.
The win sets up next week’s matchup with nationally ranked Cincinnati, a game Malzahn says will be a challenge, especially given the number of injuries the Knights have occurred in the last three weeks. “It’s been frustrating but this this team has been resilient with a next-man-up attitude,” Malzahn said. “It’s always exciting to play a nationally ranked team. As a player, these are the type of games you want to play in.”
UCF—Daniel Oborski 35 FG (14:57)
ECU—Owen Daffer 27 FG (10:25)
ECU—Daffner 23 FG (10:34)
UCF—Johnny Richardson 4 run (Oborski kick) 7:59
ECU—Audie Otomosho 27 pass from Holton Ahlers (Daffner kick) 2:43
ECU—Daffner 34 FG (7:01)
UCF—Oborski 40 FG (5:04)
UCF—Marc Anthony Richards 1 run (Oborski kick) 0:23
Saturday’s game was the 20th ever with East Carolina. No opponent has played more games against the Knights. ECU held the all-time series lead against UCF, 10-9, but with the win the Knights evened the series and have now won six straight and eight of the last nine against the Pirates.
Between the first and second quarters, UCF honored its five newest members of its Athletic Hall of Fame – including Blake Bortles, who ranks sixth on the Knights all-time passing list with 7,598 yards (2011-13).
East Carolina came into the game ranked eighth in the nation with 12 takeaways and was 15th in the nation in turnover margin at +1.0 per game. Although Davonte Brown’s third quarter interception gave them 13 for the season, the Knights won the turnover battle 3-1 by getting one interception and forcing two fumbles.
ECU running back Keaton Mitchell, who had 222 yards rushing against Tulane last week and was averaging 9.6 yards per carry this season, was limited to 67 yards on 17 carries by the UCF defense. Linebacker Tatum Bethune (17 total tackles) had a lot to do with containing Mitchell.
Not sure whether it is the effect of two straight losses, but there were empty seats on both levels of the Bounce House. The announced attendance was 41,649.
Next week’s game will be against AAC leader Cincinnati (5-0, 1-0). The Bearcats entered the game ranked fifth in the nation and did nothing to hurt that standing after pulverizing Temple, 52-3, on Friday night. The game is scheduled for 12 noon kick on ABC.