UCF’s fantastic and memorable winning streak has finally come to an end.
After 25 weeks of winning, the Knights lost a close game in their second consecutive New Year’s Six bowl game. In a game that came down to the last minute, UCF came up just short in a physical game, losing 40-32 to SEC powerhouse LSU.
Even though the Knights didn’t touch down in Orlando with another perfect season under their belt, they still have a lot to hang their hat on. They have paved the way for change of the current playoff system –- creating precedent to give any undefeated group of 5 team in the future a fairer look during playoff selection.
UCF is coming off two great back-to-back years. Last year — where the Knights beat an SEC team in Auburn at the Peach bowl — and now, this year, where they kept it close with LSU at the PlayStation Fiesta Bowl.
The Fiesta Bowl started in favor of the Knights, as they got off to a quick 14-3 lead. This came after LSU started the game off with a 77-yard kickoff return. But the UCF defense stood strong and held them to a field goal.
UCF answered with a Greg McCrae 25-yard touchdown run, followed by a 93-yard pick six by UCF defensive back Brandon Moore on the ensuing possession. On the interception return, LSU quarterback Joe Burrow was leveled by UCF defensive lineman Joey Connors.
Burrow bounced back after the big hit and went on to throw four touchdown passes. The first one coming in the first quarter after the Knights’ defense was penalized for an unsportsmanlike conduct call for spiking the ball after a big third down stop. The penalty set-up LSU for a chance to score and score they did. Burrow hit Justin Jefferson for a 22-yard touchdown pass cutting the Knights lead down to 14-10.
A Darriel Mack Jr. fumble to end the first quarter set up LSU once again. Burrow hit Derrick Dillon for a 49-yard touchdown pass, his second of the game, giving the Tigers the lead 17-14 to start the second quarter.
LSU’s defense forced another punt from the Knights. Burrow and the LSU offense capitalized getting another seven points on the board after he threw a 33-yard touchdown pass to Jefferson, increasing the Tigers’ lead to 24-14.
UCF was determined to get some points on the board before the half and Mack helped the Knights do just that. He hit Gabe Davis in the back of the end zone on a dime with three seconds left. Making it 24-21 going into half.
The Knights’ offense couldn’t keep the momentum going. They gave the ball away quick and the Tigers’ offense once again got points on the board. Burrow hit Ja’Marr Chase for another deep touchdown pass, this time for 32 yards.
After a few three-and-outs for UCF, its defense held LSU to a field goal increasing the lead to 34-24. Following another three-and-out, UCF was forced to punt. The punt was muffed by LSU and UCF recovered with great field position and failed to punch it in. They settled for a field goal, inching away at the Tigers’ lead, now up by 10: 34-24.
UCF’s defense held LSU to two more field goals: one to end the third quarter and one at the beginning of the 4th quarter, giving the Tigers a convincing 40-24 lead with not much time left in the game. The Knights were still determined.
They put a great drive together that ended with a Tosh McGowan 2-yard touchdown run followed by a 2-point conversation by Mack to Otis Anderson. This put the game back in reach for the Knights down by eight with enough time on the clock to get a chance to force overtime.
UCF couldn’t recover the onside kick but was able to stop LSU’s offense and force a punt with about a minute left on the clock. The Knights couldn’t capitalize on the opportunity to send the game into overtime, as Mack threw an interception to seal the win for LSU.
Overall the game was very physical with three ejections in the first half. LSU’s Terrance Alexander was ejected for throwing a punch and safety Grant Delpit was ejected for targeting. UCF defensive back Kyle Gibson was also ejected for targeting.
The Knights, for two years straight, proved they could play with the big boys. This streak is something that this program, Knight Nation, and everyone else in college football will never forget.
Knight Nation showed its love for their school and football teams as fans chanted “UCF” — even after the game clock struck zero.