"What can you say, we had our opportunities and we came up short," Coach O'Leary said in his post game press conference. "As far as the game is concerned, I thought the players gave good effort. They did some good things. The execution in the fourth quarter hurt us, and the ball security. That was the difference in the game. It was a good win for ECU and a tough loss (for UCF). You can't turn the ball over like we did at the end and expect to still win the game. I thought the kids still went out and played extremely hard. It is a tough loss and we will have to regroup with a short week and get ready for the next game."
The Knights offense looked like anything but the 119th ranked offense in the land on their first drive, as quarterback Michael Greco returned to the lineup and led the team down to a scoring drive which eclipsed 3:28 off the clock and went 48 yards on eight plays, setting up a 49-yard Daren Daly field goal.
The UCF defense held firm throughout the first quarter, forcing a pair of three and outs before ECU finally sustained a drive at the end of the period. UCF held the Pirates offense to just 34 yards in the opening period and one first down.
Both teams traded missed field goals on their next two offensive drives, as ECU kicker Ben Hartman was wide left from 48 yards, and UCF's Daren Daly was short and wide from 52 yards away.
The Knights struck gold with 1:40 left in the half as Michael Greco hit Jamar Newsome on a slant pass which Newsome took 54 yards to pay-dirt. The touchdown reception was the first of Newsome's career. UCF moved 80 yards on six plays and the drive encompassed 2:51 off the clock.
ECU had one last attempt at points before halftime as they drove to the UCF 29-yard line, but failed on a 46 yard field goal which sailed wide left. The 10-0 halftime lead by UCF was their largest halftime advantage of the season.
The Pirates offense got it going on their first drive of the second half as quarterback Rob Kass converted on a 3rd and 17 and led the Pirates to a 12-play, 66-yard drive which led to a 27 yard Ben Hartman field goal to cut the Knights lead to 10-3.
ECU took advantage of their momentum as they tried and recovered a surprise onsides kick. Following a Pirates first down, running back Brandon Simmons fumbled the ball which Knights senior safety Jason Venson recovered at the Knights own 39-yard line. UCF couldn't do anything with the break, as the offense went backwards and were forced to punt after a three and out.
The Pirates finally struck pay-dirt late in the game as they made a quarterback switch late in the game to Patrick Pinkney who led the team on a 10 play, 46-yard drive that followed a botched Blake Clingan punt. Sophomore running back Norman Whitley scored on a two-yard touchdown run to tie the game at 10. Whitley finished the game with 135 yards rushing.
With one last chance left for the Knights, quarterback Michael Greco fumbled away the ball in Knights territory, but senior cornerback Johnell Neal saved the day temporarily for the Knights as he intercepted a Patrick Pinkney pass, sending the game into overtime.
"ECU didn't change anything (on defense)," O'Leary said. "It was more of a lack of execution. We dropped some passes you have to catch. Those are first downs. I think our margin of error on offense is very small, and when we have opportunities to make plays we have to make them. "
Disaster struck on the first play for the Knights in overtime, as Michael Greco threw a hitch when Kamar Aiken ran a go route and the ball was intercepted by ECU cornerback Emanuel Davis.
"It was a go route," Coach O'Leary explained. "The guy sat there and Kamar (Aiken) was right, and Mike (Greco) was wrong. Kamar just ran by the guy and it would have been a touchdown. A hitch was called and a conversion off of that based on the coverage."
The Pirates completed the comeback by running the ball three times, followed by a 39 yard game-winning field goal by kicker Ben Hartman.
"It is just something that I do," said Hartman. "It is something that I am supposed to do. Everybody wants the ball in their hands at the last part of the game. I hated that it came down to that. If I made the first two kicks, then we walk out of here with the same score that it is right now."
Offensively, the Knights were led in rushing by quarterback Michael Greco who gained 53 yards on 17 attempts. Greco also completed 9 of 21 passes for 142 yards, with one touchdown and one interception. Wide receiver Jamar Newsome had a career high two receptions for 60 yards and a touchdown, and Kamar Aiken added four catches for 29 yards.
The Knights stellar defensive effort was headed by senior safety Jason Venson, who recorded eight tackles and a sack. Johnell Neal had eight tackles and an interception, and Chance Henderson recorded seven stops and 1.5 sacks.
"Defensively we played well against a good East Carolina team," O'Leary said. "Offense has to get something done to help them out and we didn't get that accomplished."
With the loss, the Knights fall to 2-6, and will likely miss out on a bowl game, as one of their two victories came against S.C. State, a FCS school.
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