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Bitcoin St. Pete Bowl Recap: Knights Rally Falls Short against Wolfpack

Despite a late rally, the UCF Knights fell to the Jacoby Brissett-led NC State Wolfpack in the Bitcoin St. Pete Bowl, 34-27.

Mark Zerof-USA TODAY Sports

NC State beat UCF 34-27 in the Bitcoin St. Pete Bowl, holding off a late rally by the Knights. The Wolfpack mauled the usually stout UCF defense throughout the game, as Jacoby Brissett was able to move the ball at will - passing, running, and even receiving.

NC State's offensive line opened huge holes for its running backs, who at times seemed impossible to tackle.  The Knights' failures on defense were compounded by an offense that sputtered far too often to keep pace. Though the Knights nearly sent off their senior-laden team with another trademark "cardiac" finish, it was not to be.

The Knights showed some promise in the first half. On the opening drive, UCF moved the ball methodically but settled for a field goal. NC State answered with a touchdown drive sustained by Brissett's elusiveness and capped off with a trick play for the score:

UCF responded and took the lead with a drive ending in Josh Reese's first of three touchdown catches. Unfortunately for the Knights, they would shortly fall behind again. The Knights would trail until the closing whistle.

Despite being outplayed, hope remained for the Knights at the close of the first half. The Knights went in to the locker room down 17-10, immediately following a sack of Brissett that prevented an NC State field goal attempt.

Things went poorly for the Knights after halftime. NC State largely owned the third quarter, which featured two touchdown runs by Matt Dayes. Between them, UCF recovered a bobbled NC State handoff. But the Knights failed to capitalize when the ensuing drive only ended in a field goal.

UCF entered the fourth quarter down 31-13 and NC State soon added to a field goal to make it 34-13. Early in the quarter, the ESPN broadcast flashed back to "O Holy Knight"[1] - the uncanny Hail Mary touchdown pass to Breshad Perriman to defeat ECU and win a share of the American Athletic Conference Title. At the time, it felt like a particularly bitter moment, especially given the Knights inability to contain Brissett or have sustained success on offense, UCF seemed well and truly out of it, but a couple of touchdown receptions by Josh Reese found them down by a score with two minutes left.

So many times this season (and last) the Knights had pulled off unlikely wins in other late game scenarios; the game-winning touchback against Houston, and the overtime win against BYU. Unfortunately, this senior-laden team did not have another "cardiac Knight" effort to give. NC State ultimately sealed the game when the Wolfpack recovered an attempted onside kick and was able to run out the clock.

For a program that has outgrown moral victories, the loss tonight was a disappointment. But it was not the kind of heartbreaking loss that Knights fans have experienced all too frequently in years past. Give credit to NC State - the Wolfpack was the better team today and it showed on both sides of the ball.  Brissett's ability to avoid sacks, and instead run or pass for key first downs, proved especially important in earning the win for the Wolfpack.  The Knights offense, which had been inconsistent and marred by spotty offensive line play during the year, stayed true to form.

With this loss, UCF fans now say goodbye to a senior class that elevated the program to a new level. UCF concludes the season with a 9-4 record, making this the fifth time in the last six seasons that the Knights have had eight or more wins. They can hang their hat on this as a lasting memory, though:

[1] As best I can tell, credit for the pun goes to Sports Talk Florida's Jeff Sharon.