No. 14 UCF wins OT thriller in AAC title game
Central Florida coach Scott Frost went out in a style.
No. 14 UCF got a standout performance from quarterback McKenzie Milton and a game-sealing interception by Tre Neal to cap an undefeated regular season with a thrilling 62-55 double-overtime win over No. 20 Memphis on Saturday in the American Athletic Conference Championship Game at Spectrum Stadium in Orlando, Fla.
UCF went 0-12 in 2015. Two years later, under Frost’s direction, the Knights are 12-0 and almost certainly headed to a New Year’s Six game, most likely the Peach Bowl.
Shortly after the game, Frost was announced as Nebraska’s next coach, but immediately after the game he had no interest in anything but celebrating with his team.
“I will remember that for a long time,” Frost said. “I couldn’t see anything because of the confetti, but that’s not my trophy. That’s their trophy. It’s a proud moment for me, but I wanted to get that trophy in these guys’ hands as fast as I could.”
Milton passed for 494 yards and accounted for six touchdowns. UCF running back Otis Anderson scored on a 1-yard touchdown run in the second overtime, and Neal picked off a Riley Ferguson pass at the UCF 9-yard line on Memphis’ ensuing possession to lock up the conference title for the Knights.
The game featured the two highest-scoring teams and two of the hottest coaching prospects in the nation.
“The hard thing about all this is, they should give me time after the season to make decisions and they don‘t,” Frost said. “These things happen at the wrong time. The one thing I wasn’t going to do is sacrifice my commitment to this team. I’ve made game plans I’ve been coaching and doing the best that I can for these guys, then decisions land on you and they’re hard decisions. I love this community, I love UCF, I love Orlando and no matter what I do I‘m probably going to retire here. I don’t think I‘m going to sell houses or anything if I leave.”
While Frost is headed back to Nebraska, where he played quarterback for the Cornhuskers, Memphis coach Mike Norvell also could be on the move. Arkansas is one of the programs believed to be interested in his services.
Both coaches had their offenses cooking early on Saturday.
Milton completed 10 of his first 11 attempts, three of them for touchdowns, leading the Knights to a 24-14 lead.
Ferguson completed his first 12 attempts, including a 68-yard touchdown pass to Antony Miller that gave Memphis (10-2) its first lead 28-24 with 4:13 left in the first half.
Miller caught 14 passes for 195 yards and three touchdowns.
“If you’re not emotional about that then check the pulse, because this football team is incredible,” Norvell said. “At the end of the day, they were able to make one more play than we did. What a game.”
UCF committed three turnovers in the first half, the third an interception by Memphis freshman defensive back Terrell Carter in the end zone that thwarted a Knights scoring threat. Memphis capitalized on the turnover with a scoring drive capped by a Riley Patterson field goal that sent the Tigers into halftime with a 31-24 lead.
Memphis scored the last 17 points of the first half to grab the lead, but opened the second half with a surprise onside kick that was unsuccessful. The Knights recovered and scored three touchdowns in the third quarter to seize the momentum.
Ferguson completed 30 of 42 passes for 471 yards with four touchdowns, including a 15-yard hookup with Miller to tie the score 48-48 with 4:13 to play.
“Of course it hurts,” Ferguson said. “We went out there and gave it our all. We left it all on the field and it hurts. If it doesn’t hurt then, like coach said, you need to check yourself because you shouldn’t be playing football.”
Patterson missed a potential go-ahead, 51-yard field goal with 28 seconds left in the fourth quarter to send the game into overtime.
Milton completed 28 of 40 passes, including five for touchdowns. He also rushed for a score. Tre‘Quan Smith and Dredrick Snelson each caught a pair of touchdown passes, and tight end Jordan Akins also had a touchdown catch for the Knights.
“We were able to weather the storm and we came out guns blazing the second half,” Milton said. “There was one play that I got a little greedy, but it is what it is. The defense picked us up and we were able to get the win. So I‘m grateful for that.”
NOTES: Central Florida and Memphis combined for 1,479 yards, the most for an FBS game this season. ... The Birmingham Bowl is a possible landing spot for Memphis in the postseason. ... UCF defeated Memphis 40-13 during the regular season. The Knights had 603 total yards in their September win over the Tigers. ... UCF LB Shaquem Griffin, who had his left hand amputated at a young age, had two drive-ending sacks. ... UCF has scored 30 or more in each of its 12 games this season. ... Memphis S Jonathan Cook had an interception and a forced fumble.