UCF started the game with the ball. They had a big kickoff return then scored in only two plays. GT then had a short drive and punted it back although a UCF player made a dumb play and got pinned at the 2. But UCF then drove 98 yards in just 10 plays to make it 14-0. Then GT went three and out. Then UCF was driving the ball.
Things were looking very bleak. Then defensive tackle Horace Lockett hustled to chase down a running back who got past him. While the running was being taken to the ground Lockett jumped on him and punched out the football for a turnover.
It was just the break that GT needed. On the next three drives the Yellow Jackets got a field goal and two touchdowns to tie it at 17 going into the half (with the help of a missed field goal from UCF). At the start of the second half things looked a little dicey. GT drove, but on a 4th and 1 deep in Knights territory Brent Key chose to kick field goal to go up 20-17. UCF had a nice drive next, but on a 4th and 1 got called for holding and didn’t convert the 4th and 11. Tech had a chance to go up big here, but a deep ball to Eric Singleton turned into a pick as Singleton sort of rolled over the ball and it popped up to the defender. The ball probably hit the ground and the defender was probably out of bounds when he got full control, but the refs let the pick stand. UCF followed up with a three and out.G T followed through with a big touchdown drive to go up 2 scores 27-17. UCF QB John Rhys Plumlee got hurt on the first play of the next drive. Backup Timmy McClain came in and made some huge plays to make it a drive, but his 4th and 4 pass was incomplete with just 2:45 to nearly ice it. GT ran it the next drive to burn timeouts/clock and UCF was down to the barest of hope when McClain threw a pick to ice it.
This was a huge win for GT. So much optimism and momentum going into spring and going into next year.
This win wasn’t because Haynes King lit it up in the air. He only threw for 87 yards and bizarrely missed a lot of throws. He did have a very nice 41-yard TD pass to Malik Rutherford. His next best pass was a short ball to Dylan Leonard who ran over a Knight defender on the sideline (a la Synjyn Days in the 2014 Orange Bowl).
It was the run game that made this offense move. Jamal Haynes (Bowl MVP) had 128 yards on just 18 carries. Haynes King added 89 yards on 12 carries. Dontae Smith joined with 65 yards on 16 carries. This offensive line was opening up huge holes and all of the GT runners were hitting them with conviction.
The defense struggled early on, but after Lockett forced that fumble things changed. The defensive backs weren’t giving up the easy looks they were early on. The defensive line and especially the linebackers stiffened up against the run. The pass rush still struggled, but made a few huge plays including a huge sack by Noah Collins (for his first sack of the year) who got hurt on the play.
I want to give shout outs to some of the guys winning their final games. Dontae Smith has never (in my opinion) been given the play time that his production warranted. In the second half of this season he finally got a real chance and made hay. I will always remember him for the 4th Quarter against UNC this year when he put up over 150 yards. I think an NFL team would be wise to pick him up.
And how about Paul Moala? He transferred him from Idaho (after playing at ND) and was maybe the best defensive player on this team. He was a strong tackler and made some huge plays this year including a huge sack this game which almost lead to a John Rhys Plumlee pick. He declared for the draft.
Can’t forget the big men. Connor Scaglione transferred in from Princeton. He took a few games to really gel with the line, but the offensive line improved a huge amount over the course of the year and Scaglione was a big part of that. This offensive line was a huge portion of the win in this game paving the way 284 rushing yards.