(Photo by Adrian J. Hernandez / New Day Review)
ORLANDO, Fla. – The 2017 American Athletic Conference Championship Game was always going to be a high-scoring bout. In a matchup that featured the No. 1 and No. 2 scoring offenses, the No. 14 UCF Knights and No. 20 Memphis Tigers didn’t disappoint, as UCF (12-0, 8-0 in AAC) came away with a 62-55 double-overtime win at Spectrum Stadium in front of 41,433 fans Saturday afternoon.
“[Memphis is] the second-highest scoring offense in the country for a reason; we’re the highest for a reason, and my hat’s off to them. It’s a shame that anybody had to lose that game,” Knights head coach Scott Frost said after completing a 12-0 season. “But I’ve said it before: What these guys have done is not just improbable—it’s impossible, in two years, to get where they are, and it’s a special group.”
UCF and Memphis (10-2, 7-2 in AAC) exchanged touchdowns in the first overtime period, as Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson found Anthony Miller for a 15-yard passing touchdown, and Adrian Killins scored from two yards out. Running back Otis Anderson scored his first and only touchdown of the game, a one-yard rush, in the second overtime before UCF’s defense recorded its most crucial turnover of the season.
Memphis converted on fourth and seven, courtesy of another Ferguson-Miller connection, to give the Tigers a fresh drive from the UCF five-yard line. After Tigers back Patrick Taylor was stuffed for a four-yard loss, Memphis elected to throw the ball. Ferguson’s short pass over the middle ended in the hands of safety Tre Neal for a walk-off, game-winning interception.
“I mean, we were just in man coverage and just tried to pressure ‘em, and my dude blocked,” Neal said after the win. “So I just zoned off, and I saw the ball come to me, and I just jumped and grabbed it. I mean, there’s nothing really else to it. Those guys got to the quarterback and made him panic, and I just had to execute when I could.”
UCF took a two-touchdown lead early in the fourth quarter, following a Matthew Wright 31-yard field goal. Memphis, however, returned the favor with a long, 66-yard touchdown run by Tony Pollard. By the 4:13 mark, Memphis tied the game at 48-48 off a 10-yard touchdown reception by Miller.
“Well we knew we had to have some balance,” Memphis head coach Mike Norvell said after the game. “We couldn’t get into a drop-back game, you know, ‘cause they have some talented pass rushers, and that showed up there late… I was really proud of the O-line. That’s a defense that’s played extremely well all year long.”
The Knights entered halftime trailing for the first time in their undefeated campaign. That didn’t deter UCF and its 48.3 points per game, though, as the Knights erupted for three-straight touchdowns to start the second half.
Leading 31-24, Memphis tried an onside kick to open the third quarter, but UCF recovered it. Knights quarterback McKenzie Milton took advantage of the short field, capping the drive with a 16-yard rushing score. After holding Memphis to a field goal despite the Tigers’ first-and-goal field position from the UCF five-yard line, Milton threw a 34-yard touchdown to Tre’Quan Smith to retake the lead. The Knights entered the fourth quarter leading by double digits after a 28-yard toss to Dredrick Snelson.
“Listen, the only time we got stopped in the first half, we stopped ourselves,” Frost said. “We fumbled, and [Milton] hasn’t made any bad decisions all year, so he was probably due for one, and their kids make plays. I was a little worried that the same thing was happening in reverse from the first game that we were getting down there, turning it over in the red zone. That’s how we won the last game.
“But this team’s resilient, man. We’ve been through lightning delays and hurricanes and missed games and 12-straight weeks of games. You know, these guys have answered the call and risen to the challenge every time that they’ve had an opportunity to. And we came back out and put some points up, and it was enough.”
Milton and the Knights led 24-14 early in the second quarter after a 50-yard Smith touchdown reception, but then UCF’s offense began to stall. On its next three possessions, UCF recorded three turnovers: a Snelson fumble and two Milton interceptions.
That allowed Memphis to take its first lead of the game, scoring two touchdowns and a field on three of its next four drives.
After Snelson’s fumble that placed the Tigers at UCF’s 31-yard line, Memphis running back Darrell Henderson took two handoffs for 36 yards and a touchdown. On the Tigers’ next possession, Ferguson sent a 68-yard pass to Miller for his first touchdown of the game and the 28-24 lead. Memphis capped the half with a last-second field goal to give the Tigers a seven-point lead entering halftime.
“Kinda like Coach said, we kinda got into a little slump there towards the end of the half,” Milton said after the win. “Red-zone turnovers can be a killer in games like these sometimes, but we were able to weather the storm, and then we came out guns blazing in the second half… It is what it is. The defense picked us up, and we were able to get the win, so I’m grateful for that.”
UCF didn’t start with the ball, but the Knights got on the board first anyway. Memphis tried a toss to the left but bobbled the ball, allowing linebacker Shaquem Griffin to recover the ensuing fumble. Milton, then, found Snelson over the middle for a 24-yard score in six plays. After forcing a Memphis three-and-out on the ensuing possession, Wright gave UCF a two-possession lead with a 31-yard field goal.
The Tigers found their first score after gouging the Knights’ defense with their running attack. Memphis, which ran for 282 yards, used only rushing plays and an unsportsmanlike-conduct penalty to travel 71 yards for its first touchdown of the game.
Player of the Game: QB McKenzie Milton
Milton threw for 494 yards and five touchdowns on 28-for-40 passing. Despite throwing three interceptions, two in the second quarter, Milton battled back and led the Knights to three-straight scoring drives to open the third quarter. Milton also rushed for 64 yards and a touchdown, his lone rushing score coming at the start of the third quarter.
The Knights now wait to hear where they will play their bowl game this year.
- Snelson recorded his first 100-yard receiving game of his career.
- With his second passing touchdown of the game, Milton became the Knights’ all-time, single-season leader in passing touchdowns, beating out 2002’s Ryan Schneider’s 31 touchdown tosses.
- UCF trailed at halftime for the first time all season. Memphis held a 31-24 lead at the end of the second quarter.
- Memphis and UCF’s combined 117-point game is the points total in any Football Bowl Subdivision championship game ever.
- The Knights won their third AAC title in the win over Memphis.
- UCF’s 12-game winning streak is tied for the second-longest in AAC history. Memphis’ 15-game win streak from Oct. 25, 2014 to Nov. 7, 2015 is the longest. the University of South Florida won 12 games in a row from Oct. 28 2016 to Oct. 21, 2017.
|Q1, 11:19||UCF Knights||McKenzie Milton to Dredrick Snelson, 24-yard pass||GOOD||7-0, UCF|
|Q1, 6:56||UCF Knights||Matthew Wright, 31-yard field goal||n/a||10-0, UCF|
|Q1, 2:57||Memphis Tigers||Patrick Taylor, 3-yard run||GOOD||10-7, UCF|
|Q1, 1:32||UCF Knights||McKenzie Milton to Jordan Akins, 48-yard pass||GOOD||17-7, UCF|
|Q2, 14:27||Memphis Tigers||Riley Ferguson to Tony Pollard, 13-yard pass||GOOD||17-14, UCF|
|Q2, 13:06||UCF Knights||McKenzie Milton to Tre’Quan Smith, 50-yard pass||GOOD||24-14, UCF|
|Q2, 8:52||Memphis Tigers||Darrell Henderson, 30-yard run||GOOD||24-21, UCF|
|Q2, 4:13||Memphis Tigers||Riley Ferguson to Anthony Miller, 68-yard pass||GOOD||28-24, UM|
|Q2, 00:00||Memphis Tigers||Riley Patterson, 27-yard field goal||n/a||31-24, UM|
|Q3, 13:06||UCF Knights||McKenzie Milton, 16-yard run||GOOD||31-31, T|
|Q3, 10:21||Memphis Tigers||Riley Patterson, 22-yard field goal||n/a||34-31, UM|
|Q3, 7:15||UCF Knights||McKenzie Milton to Tre’Quan Smith, 34-yard pass||GOOD||38-34, UCF|
|Q3, 2:29||UCF Knights||McKenzie Milton to Dredrick Snelson, 28-yard pass||GOOD||45-34, UCF|
|Q4, 9:51||UCF Knights||Matthew Wright, 31-yard field goal||n/a||48-34, UCF|
|Q4, 9:02||Memphis Tigers||Tony Pollard, 66-yard run||GOOD||48-41, UCF|
|Q4, 4:13||Memphis Tigers||Riley Ferguson to Anthony Miller, 10-yard pass||GOOD||48-48, T|
|1OT||Memphis Tigers||Riley Ferguson to Anthony Miller, 15-yard pass||GOOD||55-48, UM|
|1OT||UCF Knights||Adrian Killins, 2-yard run||GOOD||55-55, T|
|2OT||UCF Knights||Otis Anderson, 1-yard run||GOOD||62-55, UCF|
|McKenzie Milton||UCF Knights||28||40||494||5||3|
|Riley Ferguson||Memphis Tigers||30||42||471||4||1|
|Otis Anderson||UCF Knights||16||117||7.3||1||62|
|McKenzie Milton||UCF Knights||10||65||6.4||1||16|
|Adrian Killins||UCF Knights||13||55||3.9||1||23|
|Darrell Henderson||Memphis Tigers||15||112||7.3||1||36|
|Patrick Taylor||Memphis Tigers||19||114||5.6||1||38|
|Tony Pollard||Memphis Tigers||3||71||23.7||1||66|
|Tre’Quan Smith||UCF Knights||6||161||26.8||2||50|
|Dredrick Snelson||UCF Knights||9||145||16.1||2||37|
|Jordan Akins||UCF Knights||4||66||16.5||1||48|
|Anthony Miller||Memphis Tigers||14||195||13.9||3||68|
|Tony Pollard||Memphis Tigers||6||72||12.0||1||29|
|Sean Dykes||Memphis Tigers||3||161||53.7||0||63|
For more on the Knights, as they prepare for their bowl game, follow Victor Tan on Twitter at @NDR_VictorTan.