LOUISVILLE, Ky. – The crowd at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium was absolutely relentless in what ended as one of the biggest wins in UCF history, a sold out crowd of 55,000 rabid fans seemingly trying to shout a victory from the heavens.

The Knights weren’t having any of that.With 3 minutes left on the clock and a 35-31 deficit to overcome, Blake Bortles led his team 75 yards down the field and sealed the game with 23 seconds left on the clock, hitting a wide open Jeff Godfrey in the back right of the end zone. The lead changed for the final time in this epic conference game, 38-35 UCF.

It was as simple as it was beautiful.

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UCF had fallen behind on the drive before, the offense watching Heisman hopeful Teddy Bridgewater pick apart the defense on an intense 9 play 88 yard drive culminating in a 15 yard rushing touchdown with little time left. The score sent the stadium into a frenzy, freezing the hearts of UCF fans and setting the stage for the storybook ending.

On Offense

The Knights struggled to gain momentum early on after flashing a bit of brilliance on their first drive.

UCF had driven down to the Louisville 13 yard line on their first possession before Bortles threw an ill-timed interception in the back of the end zone.

It took another 3 possessions before the Knights could get anything rolling. In the final minutes of the first half, UCF conducted  71 yard drive to put themselves on the board and tie the game at seven, before falling behind 14-7 as the clock expired on the quarter.

The offense’s approach was steadier than the score displayed in the first half, averaging 5.2 yards per carry against the “elite” Louisville defense, though Bortles only completed 9 passes for 99 yards.

It wasn’t until the third quarter came around that the Knights got a full head of steam. As the half began, UCF found itself at the short end of a 28-7 game, having given up two offensive touchdowns and a defensive score birthed from a Caleb Houston fumble.

The comeback streak began with a beautiful 35 yard completion to Breshad Perriman along the right sideline, revitalizing the whole offense. The drive ended with a 1 yard plunge into the end zone by Storm Johnson, and began a streak of 24 unanswered points.

Asked about the turnaround, Bortles said that “We just had to cut out the self inflicted errors. We were killing ourselves.”

The running game took control in the second half, finishing with a whopping total of 196 rushing yards, 106 of which came from Storm Johnson in a workman-like day at the office. Johnson finished the game with one touchdown and an impressive 6 yard per carry average, while understudy William Stanback scored twice while racking up 65 yards of his own on a mere 9 carries.

It was the running game that kept the heartbeat of the offense pumping, while timely completions from Bortles downfield were a breath of fresh air. With J.J. Worton knocked out of the game on the offense’s first drive, six different receivers carried the load, led by Storm Johnson’s 79 yards.

On Defense

Teddy Bridgewater and company were able to make play after play on the Knights’ defense, making a normally stout secondary look like swiss cheese in the firs two quarters.

In the first half alone UCF gave up 235 total yards, 206 of which came through the air, and stopped only one of six third down conversions. The bright spot of was the solid run defense, which gave up a measly 2.9 yards per carry on 10 attempts through two quarters.

It seemed that the Cardinals sensed this weakness in their attack and assessed it at halftime, as Louisville opened up their first drive of the third quarter by gashing the defense for 53 yards on the ground, culminating in a 20 yard touchdown run.

However, deep into the third quarter the unit got their swagger back, forcing a fumble at the Cardinals’ 15 yard line to follow up a UCF scoring drive. The turnover led to a Knights’ touchdown on their very next play, putting the team right back in the game.

The pressure got increasingly better on Bridgewater as the quarter went on, punctuated with a monster sack by Terrance Plummer on a Cardinals’ 3rd and 10 for a 14 yard loss. It was a drive-stopping sack that would give the Knights outstanding field position, setting up a quick 3 play touchdown drive.

Talking about the play, Coach O’Leary pointed out that “they blew the protection, obviously, because he came scott clean.”

Plummer himself said that once he got ahold of Bridgewater’s jersey, he “just held on for dear life”. Bridgewater almost escaped the sack, but Plummer couldn’t be denied.

The defense did a commendable job in containing an offense averaging 41 points a game, holding Teddy and company to only two touchdowns and 210 total yards in the second half.

Quarterback Watch

Headed into the game, the major focus of attention spotlighted on the stud signal callers from each team – the tough, consistent playmaking of pro-style quarterback Blake Bortles and the much anticipated athleticism of college’s top all around quarterback prospect Teddy Bridgewater, who had already passed for 18 touchdowns and 1,872 yards through six games.

The nation’s top prospect didn’t disappoint on the national stage, passing for 341 yards and two touchdowns without turning the ball over. It just wasn’t enough to overcome a total team effort from UCF.

Bortles, on the other hand, had a much more conservative night. The Knights’ signal caller passed for 250 yards with two TD’s and an early game interception, but made the plays when it mattered. A 16 yard scamper on 2nd and 15 in the fourth quarter kept a touchdown drive alive, and the quarterback was 3-6 for 52 yards on the final play.

Bridgewater had the better day as a passer. Statistically, he outperformed Bortles immensely, and looked every bit the athlete he is advertised.

At the end of the day, it was Bortles who came away with the better game. Toughness, perseverance, and clutch performance prevailed over astronomical stats in the biggest upset of the college football season.

After the game, O’Leary was understated with his praise. “What can you say? Heck of a game, heck of a ballgame. I thought both teams played their hearts out and we’re really very proud of our football program.”

With the victory, UCF commands a 2-0 record within the conference and an overall record of 5-1. Louisville’s undefeated season was lost, falling to 6-1 overall and 2-1 within the conference.

The Knights will look to carry this confidence into next week, when they host a newly appointed American Athletic Conference rival, the University of Connecticut Huskies (0-1, 0-6).
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