Temple crushed UCF’s Homecoming dreams on a touchdown pass by P.J. Walker to WR Keith Kirkwood to go up 26-25 and leave only one second on the clock. Walker went 4/4 for 70 yards on the furious comeback drive. It took only a little over thirty seconds. It left Brighthouse Networks Stadium in stunned silence.
The Knights were crippled by poor third down play, a tremendous amount of penalties (12 for 110 yards), and a Temple defense that absolutely controlled the second half.
Early on, it looked like it would be all Knights. Freshman quarterback McKenzie Milton – back after being injured against FIU – looked sharp initially. Milton hit redshirt Sophomore wide receiver Tre’Quan Smith streaking down the middle for a 55 yard touchdown (a two point conversion followed). Temple answered in short order with a seven yard touchdown run by RB Jahad Thomas. UCF added a Matthew Wright field goal, a touchdown on a beautiful touch pass to Adrian Killins, and a 63 yard Milton touchdown run:
But Temple closed the half strong with another touchdown run by Thomas (who had destroyed the Knights last year), and went into halftime with all the momentum.
The start of the third quarter was horrible for the Knights and set the tone for the second half. Temple opened with a clock-draining, methodical, drive sustained with power running (especially to the right side of the line). The Owls manhandled the Knights, but came away with only a field goal. When the Knights’ opening drive of the half finally came, it was a disjointed mess: the Knights went three and out, Milton got banged up, and UCF put Temple in great field position with a bad kick-catch interference penalty. Temple couldn’t capitalize much on the next drive, with Shaquem Griffin’s monster sack on third down ensured The Owls would be limited to another Adam Boumerhi field goal. Milton returned on the next drive, which ended in a missed field goal for the Knights.
Early in the fourth quarter, the teams exchanged mistakes. Tre’Quan Smith had a 42 yard pick-up for the Knights as a result of blown coverage. But that brief success was mooted shortly thereafter by a Milton pick thrown behind WR Cam Stewart.
Then the fourth quarter got absurd.
With a little over six minutes left in the game, Matt Rhule’s Owls went for it on fourth and fifteen – a highly questionable decision in light of Walker’s lack of success passing (to that point) and the power that Boumerhi had shown earlier on the 47 yard field goal earlier. Walker was pressured, flushed from the pocket, and threw a pass that the Knights secondary broke up. It was UCF’s third fourth down stop of the night (and it would not be the last).
The Knights took only a bit over a minute off the clock on the ensuing drive. On Temple’s next possession, Thomas promptly gashed the Knights on a long run. The Knights defense would quickly rally. On fourth and eighteen, Trysten Hill hammered Walker and forced the fumble.
Of course, that failed to put the game away.
Walker’s four straight completions on the game-winning drive were the only sustained success the Owls had passing all night. But he was clutch, especially on the last pass which came as everyone expected Walker to spike the ball.
Temple remains in control of its AAC East destiny and now looks forward to a huge match-up against division leader USF.
For the Knights, this is one of the most shocking, deflating losses in recent memory.