The #20 UCF Knights (6-0, 4-0 American Athletic Conference) endured their first tough - and sloppy - game of the season but prevailed 31-21 over the Navy Midshipmen (5-2, 3-2). The victory is hugely significant for the Knights, who now have matched their win total from last year. And at 6-0, this is the best ever start for UCF football. The Knights’ victory also wrecked a streak for Navy, which had won 17 regular season home games in a row.
Though the Knights never trailed, the game was tight throughout.
In the first half, UCF blew numerous opportunities. The Knights had a promising drive blunted by penalties. Then a drive stopped on a failed attempt to convert fourth and one in the red zone. And later, when UCF quarterback McKenzie Milton appeared to tweak his hamstring, Noah Vedral came on briefly; he promptly botched a snap to scuttle good field position. Matthew Wright also missed a 45-yard field goal attempt to close out the half.
The Knights suffered mistakes in the second half as well. The Knights surrendered several long passes to the Midshipmen, including a 75 yard touchdown pass by Zach Abey to Malcom Perry. And McKenzie Milton threw an interception (only his third of the year) in the fourth quarter.
Though far from its usual sharp performance, the UCF offense still accumulated 483 yards. This was a game in which UCF’s speedy young players (and the offensive line, which made huge holes for them) shined. Sophomore Adrian Killins Jr. rushed for 122 yards (his new career high) and two touchdowns. One of those touchdowns was a 79 yard run to immediately answer a Navy TD that had knotted the game at 14-14 early in the second half. Freshman Otis Anderson also had a great game. With a few minutes left in the game and UCF only up three, Anderson had a clutch catch and run for a key first down. Two plays later, he put the Knights up 31-21:
Anderson also added a pair of catches for 47 yards. Nominally a wide receiver, Anderson continues to have success whether used in that role or as a running back.
Much credit for this win belongs to the Knights defense. Linebacker Pat Jasinski played fiercely throughout, ending with a career high fourteen total tackles. Redshirt Freshman cornerback Brandon Moore – usually the weakest link in the Knights’ secondary – had a tremendous game. He tipped a ball that safety Kyle Gibson then intercepted. Later, with the Midshipmen driving, Moore nailed Darryl Bonner on the pitch, forcing and recovering a fumble. Moore also ended Navy’s last drive by picking off a Garret Lewis pass (Lewis replaced Abey at quarterback after a hard hit dazed Abey in the third quarter).
The ten point win is UCF’s smallest margin of victory so far this year (UCF’s previous “low” was a 27 point win over Memphis). But this should not alarm Knights fans in the least. Instead, today’s result demonstrates that UCF can beat quality opponent even when the Knights aren’t playing their best game. Coupled with their win over Memphis several weeks ago, UCF has now beaten the two best teams in the AAC West.
UCF gets a bit of a breather, with FCS program Austin Peay coming to Orlando next Saturday. The Knights will also get a boost from the return of wide receiver Tristan Payton and cornerback Nevelle Clarke, who have now finished serving a six game suspension for failed drug tests.