The Knightmare for University of Memphis head coach Mike Norvell began late September in a rescheduled match against UCF that finished 13-40 for the Tigers, an uncharacteristic – and the only – loss on the schedule for an otherwise stellar team.
UCF left no questions on the field that Saturday night and set the record straight with ease while Memphis crumbled against 603 yards of total offense. The Tigers saw the end zone only once and in the final possession.
At every big juncture of this game, there was a Knight making a head-turning play on both sides of the ball; Adrian Killins exploded for 179 all-purpose yards and two touchdowns to lead the offense, setting records along the way and staking the claim as college football’s fastest man. McKenzie Milton ended the day with 19 completions on 31 passes for 253 yards and three touchdowns, and the lockdown UCF defense forced four turnovers.
Kyle Gibson, Mike Hughes and even defensive lineman Seyvon Lowry each ripped an interception out of the air in an impressive shutdown of an impressive Memphis quarterback, Riley Ferguson.
The NFL-quality QB led the Tiger’s march, once back on their feet, to the American Athletic Conference Championship in Orlando while their East Division adversaries stole the spotlight. One track below that Orlando team for seven straight games and two months until they met for a showdown to play on New Year’s Day.
The No. 1 and No. 2 offenses in the country would spare no possession.
A shootout began in the Knights first overtime of the season – both teams scored in the first round and UCF began the scoring in the second round. A slew of penalties kept the stadium on edge as Memphis pushed back against the clock.
These two teams totaled for 1,479 yards of offense, big play after big play. Milton earned 562 of those yards and totaled 5 touchdowns on the day.
In what would foreshadow their next meeting, an opportunity marked the beginning of the end for their 2017 dream: a missed field goal in a tied game with almost nothing on the clock. Overtime. Double overtime, to be exact, and Memphis would start.
And with all eyes glued, just five yards from the UCF end zone, Tre Neal intercepted a pass from Furguson to call the game, ignite Spectrum Stadium, launch black and gold confetti, and revitalize athletes that once played on a team of individuals.
The highest-scoring conference championship game in AAC history and it was the Knights’ name in glory.
Mike Norvell and crew packed up and went home to play the Liberty Bowl against Iowa State, and lose 20-21 two days before New Year’s.
A two-loss Tigers team met the still-unbeaten Knights nine months later in October with a homefield advantage, leading score, and heavy rain on their side. Live television saw the comfort Norvell had in dismissing a missed chip-in field goal before half while UCF sat below a three-score deficit, certain doom for their No. 10 ranking.
Memphis put up 30 points on six drives in the first half and not a point more as the FBS series later widened to 12-0 in favor of the Knights. At the start of the second half, the UCF defense made crucial and immediate adjustments and stuffed Memphis in the run and pass game ever since. A slow close of the scoring gap broke when McKenzie Milton ran in for a touchdown to take the lead 31-30 in the pouring final quarter.
UCF head coach Josh Huepel ran through fourth downs and ate every delay of game penatly until Norvell immediately called huge breaks – one at midfield and another within field goal zone. A subsequent false start from their offense turned a possible 52-yard field goal to an improbable 57-yarder. Officials took 10 seconds from the clock after the penalty from the 28 seconds left in the game to renew Norvell’s nightmare encounters with UCF.
One more pass within bounds and no timeouts left from the Tigers saw the clock run out near the Red Zone and the UCF-faithful breathe in relief.
The University of Memphis and the Liberty Bowl Stadium saw a 12-game home winning streak snapped while head coach Mike Norvell saw another haunting loss for the Tigers, once again, at the hands of UCF.
Memphis struggled to live up to the high water mark its star quarterback Riley Furguson brought to Tennessee. Now, they will face at the AAC Championship in Orlando for the second-straight year, yet in a different condition than they finished in 2017. They’ll enter the game 2-3 on the road against two losing teams and in their most hostile environment.
Houston would be crushed on the road in their final game to bring the AAC West favorite back to Orlando for seconds.
There is no chance Norvell will see a game on New Year’s Day this time around, but nothing would be sweeter than to take home a championship trophy and end the Knightmare that is now in the top-seven and 24-0.
“We know that they’ve got exceptional playmakers in every phase, offense, defense and special teams. It’s going to take our best effort and our guys are excited about the opportunity to go play in this game,” Norvell said on the championship game.
“To be able to go into an adverse atmosphere, it’s going to be a heck of a matchup.”