|Posted on December 2, 2017 at 4:05 PM|
Article by Dan Tortora
With the Memphis Tigers and the UCF Knights heading onto the field on December 2nd, the third American Athletic Conference (AAC) Championship in history was upon us.
This championship featured two teams that had never advanced to the AAC Championship before, securing that a new winner would be crowned no matter what, giving the conference a new winner in all three championship games, with the Houston Cougars defeating the Temple Owls in 2015 and Temple avenging the prior loss with a win over the Navy Midshipmen in 2016.
The Tigers opened up the game by turning the ball over on their first drive of the game, with redshirt-senior outside linebacker Shaquem Griffin taking it away from by midfield.
On their first drive of the game following the takeaway, the host Knights went down the field and into the end zone, courtesy of a pass over the middle from sophomore quarterback McKenzie Milton to sophomore wide receiver Dredrick Snelson who caught the ball, put his hand on the head of his defender, and turned up for the touchdown, making it 7-0 UCF with 11:19 to play in the first quarter.
The touchdown was Milton's 31st passing score of the season, tying a single-season record for the school set by former quarterback Ryan Schneider in 2002.
Freshman wide receiver Otis Anderson, deep in UCF territory, carried the ball for a 62-yard gain all the way to the Memphis redzone area on the team's second drive of the contest.
But the Knights failed to charge on into the end zone, setting for a 31-yard field goal by redshirt-junior Matthew Wright to bring the score to 10-0 Knights with 6:56 left in the first quarter.
On their third drive of the game, Memphis would finally reach the end zone on a drive where they ran the ball nine straight times and did not attempt a single pass. Sophomore running back Patrick Taylor grabbed the first touchdown, and overall score, of the game for the Tigers on a three-yard run that came after his 38-yard burst on the ground to make it 10-7 with 2:57 remaining in the first quarter.
UCF responded by getting their third score in three tries, this their second touchdown of the game when Milton sent the ball out in front of senior tight end Jordan Akins who got to it and took off with his right hand held high for the 48-yard score that elevated the Knights to a 17-7 advantage with 1:32 left in the opening quarter.
After not scoring on their first two drives, the Tigers had followed with two consecutive touchdowns to scratch their way into the contest, their second score coming from their drive that carried over into the beginning of the second quarter where senior quarterback Riley Ferguson completed to sophomore running back Tony Pollard on a 13-yard catch and score to bring the game within a field goal for the second straight time, this 17-14 UCF just 33 seconds into the second quarter.
Just 1:21 later, Milton aired out to junior wide receiver Tre'Quan Smith for a 50-yard pass and dash to raise the Knights up to a 24-14 lead at the 13:06 mark of the second quarter.
Ahead by 10, UCF would turn the ball over for the first time in the game on a fumble by Snelson that was forced by senior free safety Jonathan Cook and recovered by senior linebacker Genard Avery. Just like UCF, Memphis would capitalize off the fumble of their foe, as sophomore running back Darrell Henderson continued his impressive running against the Knights on this 30-yard rush into glory territory to get the Tigers within a field goal of the Knights for a third time in the first half, at 24-21 with 8:52 remaining before halftime.
Milton would throw an interception on the following drive, marking the team's second straight turnover, when junior defensive back Tito Windham grabbed the takeaway right by his own end zone. Before the two consecutive turnovers, UCF had scored on their first four drives.
Prior to the interception, Milton had completed 15 consecutive passes, tying a record set by former Knights' quarterback Daunte Culpepper.
Memphis made UCF pay once again off of a turnover when redshirt-senior wide receiver Anthony Miller caught the ball, turned up the speed, and bumped himself like a pinball off a defender and into the end zone for a 68-yard score with 4:13 to go before the break. After coming within a field goal of UCF three times in the first half, Memphis finally overtook the lead, at 28-24.
On the ensuing drive, Milton would have what looked like a lifetime for a quarterback to throw thanks to his offensive line and he hit junior wide receiver Cam Stewart who was tackled in the air and came down to the right of the end zone, according to the officiating crew.
Milton, on the Memphis six-yard line, would attempt a pass to the end zone and he found a receiver, but that receiver was wearing blue, as freshman defensive back Terrell "TJ" Carter intercepted Milton in his own end zone, running the ball out to the Memphis 25-yard line. This interception marked two straight interceptions for Milton and three consecutive turnovers overall, after UCF had scored on all of their first four drives of the game.
The Tigers would end the first half by going 3-for-3 in scoring to follow a Knights' turnover, this time with a 27-yard field goal by freshman placekicker Riley Patterson to give the Tigers a touchdown of separation from the Knights heading into the locker rooms, 31-24.
After coming out firing on their first four drives, the Knights' blunders aided the Tigers in catching up and passing them, with the Tigers gaining 17 points on the three Knights' turnovers combined.
UCF must have heard head coach Scott Frost clearly in the locker room because it took them less than two minutes to score to open the second half, tying the game at 31-31 at the 13:06 mark of the third quarter off of a 16-yard quarterback keeper by Milton who waited and found the seam to strike through.
The Knights did not allow a touchdown by the Tigers when the Tigers had advanced to their four-yard line, forcing a field goal by Patterson, who booted the ball through from 22 yards away, giving the Tigers their second lead of the game, at 34-31 with 10:21 to go in the third quarter.
On their second drive of the second half, Milton linked up with Tre'Quan Smith for the second score by the tandem in the game, this a 34-yard touchdown catch in the end zone to give UCF the lead for the first time since 24-21 in the second quarter.
With just under seven minutes to play in the third quarter, Memphis and UCF had combined for over 1,000 yards of total offense, thanks to a nine-yard pass play from Ferguson to Anthony Miller.
But a big-time sack by redshirt-junior defensive lineman Joey Connors on Ferguson would aid in ending the Memphis drive in their third punt of the game, right around four minutes left in the third quarter.
On the ensuing drive by the Knights, sophomore running back Adrian Killins, Jr., went into traffic and somehow burst out of it for a 23-yard run followed by Milton's completion to redshirt-senior tight end Michael Colubiale for 32 yards that was followed by Milton's pass to Snelson in the end zone for a 28-yard touchdown play. Three plays for 83 yards and UCF had gone up by 11, 45-34 with 2:29 to go in the third quarter.
At the start of the fourth quarter, Griffin took down Ferguson for UCF's third sack of the game, which brought up a field-goal attempt that was no good from 46 yards away, giving UCF the ball on their own 29-yard line.
On the other end, Wright attempted his own field-goal try, this from 31 yards away, and he had a different outcome, sending it through the uprights to extend the lead for the Knights to two touchdowns, up 48-34 with 9:51 to play.
But hold on. Pollard broke out and had nothing but daylight to follow him into the end zone on a 66-yard run that brought the Knights' lead down to seven, 48-41. The Memphis drive took a mere 49 seconds off the clock.
For their following drive, UCF was faced with a 4th-&-1 situation in their own territory and Frost elected to go for it, which paid off thanks to a run by Anderson for three yards and a new set of downs. But fourth down would creep up on UCF again on the drive and they would choose to punt, on 4th-&-6, with just under seven minutes to play.
With 6:51 on the clock, the Tigers began their drive on their own 32-yard line, down seven. Pollard caught a pass on the first play of the drive to take Memphis from their own 32 to the UCF 39. Later on, Ferguson faked the handoff and sent the ball to a lone receiver on the left side of the end zone. That receiver was none other than the catching machine, Anthony Miller, who grabbed the reception in tight single-coverage to tie the game at 48-48 with 4:13 to play.
The Knights would punt the ball away with under three minutes to play, and a penalty on UCF would bring Memphis to their own 43-yard line to start the drive in a tie game.
UCF responded by sacking Ferguson to force 3rd-&-9, but it was called off due to a delay of game penalty on Memphis that made it 3rd-&-14 with 2:03 to go, sending Memphis backward to their own 39.
The Tigers made up for it immediately on a run by Henderson that not only gained the first down but gave the Tigers a huge 36-yard gain to the Knights' 25-yard line.
Memphis would hurt themselves once again, with an illegal block in the back penalty that sent them backward to the UCF 35 on 1st-&-20.
UCF would force fourth down on Memphis and block the 46-yard field-goal try, catching it in the air, but a delay of game penalty would keep the ball instead with Memphis and give them another try.
From 51 yards away, Patterson was no good, giving the Knights the ball on their own 34-yard line.
On just the second play of the drive for UCF, Milton threw his third interception of the game.
With 13 seconds to play in regulation, junior outside linebacker Titus Davis had the back of his quarter-back, sacking Ferguson to end regulation in a 48-48 tie.
On Memphis' first drive of the extra period UCF aided their adversary on a pass interference penalty that moved Memphis to the UCF 29. Ferguson would rush for an first down and then follow with a dart to Miller from 15 yards out, giving them the lead in overtime, 55-48.
A defensive penalty by Memphis would do for UCF what UCF did for them, as both teams accidently helped their opponent. A pass interference call on the Tigers placed the Knights at the Tigers' five-yard line with a first down. The Knights would run twice, scoring on the second try when Killins went to the outside and held the ball out for the pilon before going out of bounds, tying the game at 55-55 after the first overtime.
UCF would begin the second overtime on offense. After a Milton nine-yard keeper brought the Knights to the Tigers' one-yard line, Otis Anderson would score on his second try, hitting the pile and bouncing off to charge in as he kept his feet moving, giving the Knights a 62-55 lead.
Henderson had a wide open touchdown go off of his fingertips, bringing up 4th-&-7 from the UCF 22-yard line for Memphis.
Anthony Miller responded by reaching out and catching the ball as it went by him, turning around and holding on to gain the first down to the Knights' five-yard line.
Then, UCF shut the door that was swinging back and forth throughout the game, for good when redshirt-junior defensive back Tre Neal intercepted the ball and successfully ended the contest in a 62-55 double-overtime win by UCF.
With the victory, the Knights become the third different team to win the AAC Football Championship in its three-year history.
UCF continues to create history, becoming the first-ever Football Bowl Subdivision (FBS) team to go from 0-12 to 12-0 in a span of two years.