PITTSBURGH — The UCF Knights fell to the Pittsburgh Panthers 34-35 at Heinz Field Saturday afternoon, ending their regular-season win streak after 25 games.
With the last regular-season loss on the road against the USF Bulls in 2016, UCF junior wide receiver Gabriel Davis, like many of the Knights, are experiencing a loss during the regular season for the first time. The starting receiver said his main concern is how the team will answer to the adversity.
Davis said the team puts a pressure on themselves to be perfect and it hurts when they are not able to meet their expectations but said nothing will change for the teams’ goals moving forward.
“Season goals remain the same, still going to be doing the same thing week-in and week-out,” Davis said. “We’ve been preparing really well every single week. I don’t think that’s what it is, I mean, there’s time you’re going to make mistakes in life and today was the day.”
With 59 seconds left in the fourth quarter — and no timeouts left on the board — Panthers junior quarterback Kenny Pickett ran in a 3-yard touchdown from senior wide receiver Aaron Mathews to tie the score 34-34.
Panthers redshirt junior kicker Alex Kessman made the extra point to give the panthers the 1-point lead. Kessman made the 65-yard kick to win the game after missing a 35-yard field goal in the first quarter and a 41-yard field goal in the fourth quarter.
UCF redshirt junior linebacker Eric Mitchell said the loss felt more like a dream and didn’t feel real immediately after the game. He said the team will be able to learn how to face adversity and learn how to move on following Saturday’s loss.
“We’ve still got the season goals – we still going to do everything we set out to do, from camp and spring. We going to treat this one like it was nothing and bounce back.”
Pittsburgh Panthers head coach Pat Narduzzi said in a postgame press conference the trick play pulled off by the Panthers’ offense was the “Pitt special.” Narduzzi said offense coordinator Mark Whipple made the call to run the play.
Pickett said the trick play was something the team learned during camp – a play the Panthers borrowed from the Philadelphia Eagles – and had been keeping in their back pocket.
“They actually did a good job,” Pickett said after the game. “[UCF’s] D-End jumped outside, so I tried to act like I was blocking them for a reverse and I just threw him by and tried to leak into the end zone.”
UCF dropped seven spots in the Week 5 rankings released Sunday afternoon, landing the No. 22 spot in The AP Top 25 Poll and the No. 23 spot in the Amway Coaches Poll following Saturday’s loss.
UCF trailed Pitt for the entire first half. The Panthers were up 21-0 with just over four minutes left in the second quarter when UCF senior running back Adrian Killins Jr. scored the Knights’ first touchdown.
UCF fought through the third quarter and took the lead to 31-28 — after going into halftime down by 11 — with two touchdown passes caught by Davis and an 87-yard punt return by UCF junior Otis Anderson Jr.
Anderson Jr. said the loss will be something the team remembers when they are in the weight room and when they get tired, or in the last couple reps of practice when they need motivation.
“We’re pissed, we’re supposed to be,” Anderson Jr. said. “You’re not supposed to be happy after a loss, no matter how close the game was. Especially with it being one point – it was one play, one yard, it was something we missed out on.”
For the first time this season, the Knights did not score on their first drive. The game against the Panthers marked the first time since October 2018 the team did not score in the first quarter.
“These guys will come back, they’re a prideful football team,” Heupel said. “A lot of goals out there, a lot of things to go play for.”
UCF kept the longest streak in The Associated Press Poll era alive by scoring 30 or more points for the 30th consecutive game, according to the UCF postgame notes.
“This one’s gunna hurt for a while,” Heupel said. “We’ll get back Monday and get back after it.”
Heupel said it came down to a few things, but all situations the team didn’t want to be in early in the game.
“Whether it was me putting them in the right position or us executing, we didn’t operate efficiently enough early in the football game,” he said. “ … it’s going to hurt our entire football team.”
UCF’s defense had only given up one first half touchdown going into the game. Before halftime, the defense gave up three touchdown passes to Pitt’s offense, which also had possession of the ball for 11 minutes more than the UCF offense did.
The Knights tallied 423 yards of total offense and 76 plays in the 24 minutes and 18 second they had the ball, while the Panthers closed out the game with 439 yards of total offense and 88 plays in the 35 minutes and 42 seconds the ball was in their possession.
UCF freshman quarterback Dillon Gabriel threw 25-for-42 on 338 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns.
Gabriel said after the game that the team is disappointed but never defeated. He said the team’s goals remain the same despite the loss.
“[I] didn’t execute on my part, I feel like I didn’t play my best and it showed,” he said. “… it’s motivation. There’s a lot of things I can learn from it.”
Pitt’s defense stayed on the quarterback throughout the game, contributing to Gabriel throwing the Knights’ first interceptions of the season and his first career turnover.
Pickett went 25-for-47 on 224 yards and a touchdown, while redshirt freshman quarterback Nick Patti threw 2-for-3 on 16 yards and a touchdown the short time he was on the field for the Panthers.
“Yeah, I don’t know, how many sacks did we have? How many? Did someone say eightout there? Six? There was all kinds of pressure,” Narduzzi said.
The Panthers were able to reach Gabriel six times, while the Knights marked one sack in the game.
Heupel said he told the team to let this loss hurt, and they can descend from this and fall apart or come together and grow as a team.
“This doesn’t define our 2019 journey, this defines this week,” Heupel said. “But that’s it. At the end of the day, we’re as good as the next one.”
With the loss, the Knights are 3-1 on the season, while the Panthers improve to 2-2, 0-1 Atlantic Coast Conference.
The Knights will face their first American Athletic Conference opponent on Saturday, as they take on the UConn Huskies at 7 p.m. at Spectrum