What appeared to be a blowout with nearly 12 minutes left in the third quarter proved to be anything but, as the Memphis Tigers scored 14 unanswered points and nearly dealt the Knights another crushing defeat. Fortunately for UCF, the defense took over and stepped up when they needed to and turned what could've been a horrible trip back to Orlando into a much happier one.
"I think the defense hung in there and did some nice things," Knights head coach George O'Leary said. They really did, and I'm just very happy with our players right now."
For the fourth consecutive game, UCF put up the first crooked number on the scoreboard as the Knights defense blocked a quick-kick by Tigers quarterback Arkelon Hall to set up the offense at the Memphis 30-yard line. Brynn Harvey did most of the damage as he ran for 26 yards on first down, and the Knights cashed in when freshman quarterback Rob Calabrese found fullback Ricky Kay wide open in the end zone for a four-yard touchdown. The touchdown pass was the sixth of the season for Calabrese and the touchdown reception was Kay's first of his career.
The Knights struck again very quickly as Memphis quarterback Arkelon Hall couldn't handle the snap and handoff to Charlie Jones, and UCF linebacker Derrick Hallman scooped up the football and took it 26 yards to the house to give the Knights a 14-0 lead. The 14 points scored in the first quarter was the most this season for UCF.
Memphis answered right away as Arkelon Hall hit wide receiver Duke Calhoun with a 54-yard pass down the sideline for a touchdown to cut the UCF lead to 14-7. Knights cornerback Johnell Neal was victimized as Calhoun ran right by him and he was unable to locate the football until it was in Calhoun's hands. The Tigers drive was just three plays and covered 69 yards in one minute and 51 seconds.
The Knights offense put together a real FBS football drive as they methodically marched 82 yards in 12 plays to put UCF up 21-7 with just under a minute to go before halftime. Backup quarterback Joe Weatherford finally found some success as he hit on a big 39-yard pass to Kamar Aiken to turn field position and then he connected with Brian Watters on a 27-yard hookup on a big 4th and 17 play from the 35-yard line. Freshman running back Latavius Murray did the rest of the work as he scored his third touchdown of his career on a one-yard plunge.
"I was pleased to see Joe Weatherford go in there and do some nice things," O'Leary said.
The 21 points scored was the most the Knights have tallied in a first half this season, and the 82-yard drive was the second-longest of the season. At halftime, UCF was ahead in nearly every statistical category, and the offense seemed to find a spark. The Knights defense was dominant as usual, with Sha'reff Rashad leading the team with six tackles at intermission.
The second half began just as the first half ended for UCF with one exception—Rob Calabrese was at quarterback. The result was similar as Calabrese led the team down the field with relative ease against a much maligned Memphis defense. The drive went for 54 yards on just seven plays, capped by a Calabrese to Khymest Williams 19 yard touchdown pass to put the Knights up 28-7. Calabrese was three for three on the drive for 44 yards.
"I was also happy to see Rob Calabrese go out there and move the team down the field for the first touchdown," O'Leary said.
The Memphis offense finally got on track as they were granted a short field thanks to a great punt and defensive series. The Tigers made the most of their field position as they used several different formations and quarterbacks to move 38 yards on 11 plays, highlighted by a Curtis Steele two-yard touchdown run to cut the Knights lead to 28-14.
The effects of the UCF offense stalling began to take it's toll on the Knights defense, as Memphis broke through again on a fourth quarter drive that went 51 yards on 11 plays as Steven Black ran it in from three yards out to trim the UCF lead to just seven at 28-21. Memphis burned 4:18 off the clock and UCF helped them out along the way with a big pass interference penalty on Emery Allen.
After the Knights ensuing offensive drive stalled yet again it was up to the UCF defense to hold on for the win. Joe Burnett helped do just that as he took matters into his own hands as he stepped in front of an Arkelon Hall pass and returned the ball 42 yards down to the Memphis 21 yard line. With just 2:24 left on the clock the game was seemingly over, but the Tigers were given new life after UCF freshman running back Latavius Murray fumbled the ball on the first play from scrimmage.
"Obviously we're yelling for the kid to go down at the end of the game, but if we had enough time just to take a knee (we would've), so we had to run one play and then take a knee," Knights head coach George O'Leary explained. They got a chance after he fumbled the ball."
With their last shot, Memphis could only drive the ball to the UCF 44-yard line before four straight incompletions caused them to finally realize defeat.
"Anytime you win it's a good win, but we didn't do anything to help ourselves in the last three or four minutes in that game," O'Leary said. Thank God the defense rose up and got us some good stops."
Rob Calabrese completed 6 of his 12 passes for 54 yards and two touchdowns, while Joe Weatherford completed just 2 of 7 passes for 67 yards. Freshman running back Brynn Harvey led the team in rushing with 71 yards on 11 carries before leaving in the second quarter with a concussion. Latavius Murray added 25 tough yards on 10 carries including a touchdown.
Defensively, cornerback Sha'reff Rashad led the team with 11 tackles, and defensive tackle Bruce Miller recorded eight tackles and is credited with a blocked punt. Derrick Hallman had three tackles and one big fumble recovery that he took back for a touchdown. Although Joe Burnett didn't see much action in the return game, as Memphis kicked away from him, he did manage to record four tackles, one for loss, and had the game's only interception.
The victory was the second in a row for the Knights and second in a row on the road. UCF will host UAB in the season finale next Saturday at Bright House Networks Stadium at 1:00.
Knights Hold On 28-21
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